The Audacity of Blessing Others

Right now my church has been discussing what it means to bless others. The challenge is that typicallyBabies seem to know how to bless others--that's why their smiles are so compelling. (Photo credit: Adam AvRuskin) blessing involves unequal power dynamics—we “bless” those we feel superior to in some way, those who have less power than us: parents bless children, priests bless parishioners, saints (or at least aspiring ones) bless sinners.

However, the view of blessing we’ve been exploring is radically different, and it really gives me pause to think about how to live this out in our home. (This lesson that I’ve been learning is something that babies seem to inherently know, luckily!) Here’s a view of “blessing” from Barbara Brown Taylor that I love (thanks Greg for finding this resource):

A blessing does not confer holiness. The holiness is already there, embedded in the very givenness of the thing. The mosquito does not need your help to make it holy. The heavy boy at the airport does not need you to place him in divine custody, suggesting that perhaps while he is there he could lose a little weight. Because God made these beings, they share in God’s own holiness, whether or not they meet your minimum requirements for a blessing… The only logic [that surrounds this kind of blessing] is that all life comes from God, and for that reason alone we may call it blessed, leaving the rest to God.

Pronouncing a blessing puts you as close to God as you can get. To learn to look with compassion on everything that is; to see past the terrifying demons outside to the bawling hearts within; to make the first move toward the other, however many times it takes to get close; to open your arms to what is instead of waiting until it is what it should be; to surrender the justice of your own cause for mercy; to surrender the priority of your own safety for love – this is to land at God’s breast.

To pronounce a blessing on something is to see it from the divine perspective. To pronounce a blessing is to participate in God’s own initiative. To pronounce a blessing is to share God’s own audacity.

If this is true, that pronouncing a blessing  puts us as close to God as we can get, then this must be one reason why we love babies. Lily knows no hierarchies or social outcasts yet. There is no “other” to her.  When she smiles at a new face on the bus, she is genuinely “seeing” that person and responding to their heart. It’s no wonder people cannot resist the smile of a baby. It’s a rare moment, a true blessing, when the eyes of another human take us in and accept us for who we are, without judgment, caveat, or agenda.

My friend Cheryl—or the wise woman of New Orleans, as I’m coming to think of her—matches elderly individuals with young children for companionship and mentoring. She says that it’s always amazing to see how quickly children accept an older person. Adults have all sorts of opinions, but children, once they ask, “Where are your teeth?” “Or why is your face so wrinkled?” just accept their elderly partner as they are.

I wonder if this wholehearted acceptance and unconditional love is what really lies at the heart of the oft-quoted saying of Jesus that we must “become like little children” before we will enter the kingdom of God?  I grew up thinking the “little children” adage was more about not questioning God/authority and remaining pure and innocent. It’s a lot harder to actually lean into the idea that once again it might just come down to love. 

On a home front note, we are finally getting more settled into our new apartment. A friend walked in on Sunday and said, “Oh—it’s nice! I was expecting something gloomy and dark after all you’ve been writing.” So, I should clarify that we are in a good little space—it’s definitely growing on me. Apparently change, even to another good situation, is just a whole lot harder than I wanted to admit.