The Practice of Blessing

When we were moving last time, I did my best to fit in final coffee dates and chats with all the people who had been meaningful to me. One hot afternoon I found myself in the home of a Catholic friend with whom I’d had many deep conversations about theology and practice.

We talked for awhile, and then I rose to leave and we embraced at the door to her flat. To my complete surprise, she reached up and made the sign of the cross on my forehead, saying a blessing as she did so, a benediction over my going.

I’m not sure anyone has ever blessed me outside of a church context. I was raised in a liturgical church so the sight of the vicar standing before the congregation, arms stretched wide and robes fluttering, is a familiar one to me. To receive a blessing in a regular apartment between two friends felt strange— but strangely beautiful.

The Celts of Scotland and Ireland knew the power of blessing. They had a blessing for every circumstance, every moment. From waking to lying down, their every action was bathed in prayer. Blessings for stoking the morning fire, blessings for making breakfast, blessings for dressing, and for feeding the animals. The blessings were as natural a part of life as the actions themselves. I like to imagine them singing their blessings as they worked, the melodies covering the space and carrying the blessing out beyond them.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “The most ordinary things are drenched in divine possibility. Pronouncing blessings upon them is the least we can do.” (An Altar in the World)

My own life feels decidedly ordinary. I spend my days caring for our two young children and try to not go a little bonkers in the process. It is naps and nappies, mealtimes and playtime, cuddles and disputes. I love them dearly, but most days find me at least once or twice mourning the loss of the life I had before they arrived– the life that was wider and faster and new every day.

But the act of blessing is, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, “to open your arms to what is instead of waiting until it is what it should be.” And sometimes, more often than not, we discover that the thing we thought was a curse becomes a blessing even as we pronounce it so.

I am trying to learn the practice of blessing. I am a beginner, so it feels awkward and unnatural most times. But I bless my babies as I care for them– easier to do in the moments they are little angels than in the ones when I would like to just walk out the door. I bless the food as I prepare it, the laundry as I fold it, the floor as I vacuum it. I bless the buggy as I push it, the rubbish as I empty it, the bill as I pay it.

I have started trying to write them too. The Celts knew their blessings by heart. They pronounced them daily and taught them to their children. What might it be like to live the same way? I started with the thing I do most often– changing my young son. I wrote a blessing that covered his entire little body, just as I daily cover him in moisturiser:

The Sacred Mother bless you, little one.
Bless your feet to guide you well,
Bless your legs to carry you where you need to go,
Bless your bottom to give you rest,
Bless your tummy button
     As you were once bound to me, be always bound to God
Bless the breath within your chest,
     The breath of God within you;
Bless these hands to give and to hold,
Bless this mouth with sweetness and laughter,
Bless your head to guide you in wisdom,
Bless these eyes to always see clearly.

I once heard blessing described as prayer that hallows, but I’m not sure that’s right. All the blessing does is open my eyes. The holiness was always there; I just needed to be shown. A blessing in the end, is an upside down thing, for in speaking out a blessing, we discover that we are the ones who are being blessed.

Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen
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11 thoughts on “The Practice of Blessing

  1. Reading this is such a blessing to me. I especially liked your last sentence, “A blessing in the end, is an upside down thing, for in speaking out a blessing, we discover that we are the ones who are being blessed.”

  2. I so needed this today…. It’s been a low 24 hours of mothering around here. I’m going to reset this afternoon with a blessing. Thank you.

    • Oh I know those low hours. I think that’s why this idea of blessing the ordinary moments so resonated with me. Solidarity, mama. Hope the reset worked, and grace grace grace for all the in between moments. x

  3. Fiona, this is beautiful! I love: “All the blessing does is open my eyes. The holiness was always there.” This morning, “blessing” was on my heart while I was praying. That my eyes would be open to the blessing in my work today; that my work and heart would be a blessing to others today. Then I read this, what a sweet serendipity. Thank you.

    • How perfectly timed then! This post’s publishing date has changed a few times but now it feels like it was exactly right. Thank you for sharing that x

  4. We have always sung a blessing over our children at bedtime, but these days we find ourselves using it for other occasions as well. Blessing tears down the wall between sacred and secular so that we can see the holy in our ordinary moments.

    I honor your commitment to writing (and other ministry) in the midst of these years full of mothering.

  5. This is beautiful. As I care for my granddaughter every day, it is easier to see the tiresome tasks as blessings than it was when her mother was the baby. It’s wonderful that you have this wisdom early.

  6. Beautiful! Blessing as a lost art, and a necessary one if we are to do a better job of recognizing the holy happening around us. I loved your blessing for you son! Easy to remember as you travel up his little body. Well done.

  7. I love the idea of blessing! What a precious gift you give your children in writing down the blessings. I am reminded by Lauren Winner of the Jewish tradition of giving thanks in all things-even for the most mundane acts. My husband and I started a tradition of each family member holding the title of “person of the week.” The idea is to send notes of encouragement, give a small gift and pray for them. On the first day of their reign, we go around and offer a blessing for them. My kids are now teens and still obsess with their anticipated week. Of course, the short term outcome hasn’t always met my expectations but, I’m hoping, the act of blessing becomes part of their life rhythm.

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