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.