While sheltering in place I’ve spent some time in each room of my house. One of the most comforting rooms is my study because there I am surrounded by the array of books that have been my friends for decades. Yesterday, my eye landed on John O’Donohue’s book of blessings,To Bless the Space Between Us.
In his book, the author, poet, and Irish priest with a passion for Celtic spirituality recalls a seminal time in his early priesthood:
“When I was a young priest, I had the occasion to visit a contemplative community of sisters. An old sister opened the door. Knowing that I was a new priest, she asked for my first blessing. I stood over this contemplative and drew on every resource I knew to invoke the most intimate blessing. As I contemplated the blessing , it struck me how ironical this situation was: here was a contemplative nun who had spent more than 60 years of her live navigating the searing silence and darkness of God, yet she was asking a 25 yr old for his blessing. When she stood up I decided to kneel down and ask her for her blessing. She seemed utterly taken aback, she mumbled something and practically ran out of the room. She must never have had such a request for her blessing before. The was a woman who practiced a totally contemplative life, and yet the system made her feel that she could not bless, and, conversely, it made me think I could.”
“Who has the power to bless? Perhaps there are deeper questions hidden here: What do you bless with? Or where do you bless from? When you bless another, you first gather yourself; you reach below your surface mind and personality, down to the deeper source within you – namely, the soul. Blessing is from soul to soul.” (pp. 204-205)
“We never know the script of our lives, nor do we know what is coming toward us, or why our life takes on this particular shape or sequence. A blessing is different from a greeting, a hug, a salute, or an affirmation; it opens a different door in the human encounter.” (p. 199). There is no distance in spiritual space. This is what blessing does: it converts distance into spiritual space (p.202)
We are aware of the spiritual space and the blessing between us when we read about individuals and corporations creating masks for those on the front lines of the virus. We recognize the power of it as we listen to cheers and applause for medical workers from balconies in Midtown at shift change (https://www.policemag.com/…/video-midtown-atlanta-residents…) or medical staff on rooftop at Cartersville Medical Center while folks on the ground were serenading them. Story after story of kindness and blessing are everywhere. The CEO and founder of Texas Roadhouse forfeited his salary so that employees could be paid. Ralph Lauren and Apple are donating $10 million for Coronavirus Relief. There has been much soul to soul connection the last few days as the people of St. Paul’s offered their favorite hymns and music on the FaceBook post by our organist/choirmaster, Mason Copeland.
We never know the script of our lives but at times like these we are called to step it up, to move from saying “having a blest day” to becoming a part of the blessing.
I offer an Irish blessing in closing, which you may view here or read the text below:
An Irish Blessing:
I wish you not a path devoid of clouds, nor a life on a bed of roses, not that you might never need regret, nor that you should never feel pain. No, that is not my wish for you. My wish for you is: That you might be brave in times of trial, when others lay crosses upon your shoulders. When mountains must be climbed and chasms are to be crossed; when hope scarce can shine through. That every gift God gave you might grow along with you, and let you give the gift of joy to all who care for you. That you may always have a friend who is worth that name, whom you can trust, and who helps you in times of sadness. Who will defy the storms of daily life at your side. One more wish I have for you: That in every hour of joy and pain you may feel God close to you. This is my wish for you, and for all who care for you. This is my hope for you, now and forever.