What is a Blessing?

I actually remember the following joke, which was told by the new minister who began preaching at our Fundamentalist church when I was a ten-year-old child. He told this joke on his very first day: his welcome sermon.

A man buys a new Ferrari and wants to take it to a minister to have it blessed. So he takes it to the first minister and asks, “Will you bless my new Ferrari?” The minister looks at him quizzically. “What’s a Ferrari?” The man decides this is not the minister to bless his Ferrari, and so he approaches a second minister. “Will you bless my new Ferrari?” Again the minister asks, “What’s a Ferrari?” Discouraged, the man seeks out a third minister. He decides to ask straight away, “Do you know what a Ferrari is?” “Oh yes!” exclaims the third minister. The man decides this is the one, and asks, “Will you bestow my Ferrari with a blessing?” The minister answers: “What’s a blessing?”

It’s a good question, one that my parents could not answer on the ride home. To them, the punch line of the joke was not only irrelevant, but also irreverent. Ministers did not bestow blessings. Only God was in the blessing business. End of story.

Or, perhaps the beginning of the story.  I decided that I liked the idea that someone could bestow a blessing.  After all, people did say “bless you” when someone sneezed.  I had hoped, perhaps, that our new minister would be able to explain it.  My parents suggested he would not, that the elders might silence him on the topic.

Luckily for me, my childhood religion was not the last word on the subject.   There are additional viewpoints.  For example, according to Tibetan Buddhists, a blessing is a result of past good karma. Blessed Be is a pagan greeting or intention to spread goodwill. This actually resonates with Thomas Aquinas, who defined the biblical notion of love (the Greek word agape) as: “to will the good of another.” That’s a loaded statement, because in order to practice agape we need see both the potential good in another and then will that good into being. Will, loosely speaking, is very similar to intent. It is both conscious and transpersonal.

Questing a shamanic blessing
During a Michael Harner workshop, we were given the task of finding a place where we could receive a blessing. The technique involved taking a shamanic journey and watching for a beam of light that would direct you to the location.

In my journey, the light pointed out a location in a national forest. I knew the area generally, but not specifically. When I was questing, searching out the site, I held the vision of my shamanic journey in my mind, until what I was seeing with inner vision matched my surroundings. There was a tiger swallowtail butterfly nearby. When I sat and opened myself to the blessing, the butterfly flew a tight and complete circle around me, and I was immediately engulfed with a sense of ecstasy. I closed my eyes for about 15 minutes to soak up the feeling. When I opened my eyes, I noticed a pair of fireflies mating on my shoe.

Blessings need not be so dramatic. For example, holding a concern or question with shamanic mind may result in an omen, such as rays of light streaming through clouds. Any omen or lit communication feels like a blessing. Sometimes, coming awake to the presence of my spirit helpers is the blessing.

Invitation to a blessing
A blessing is like a prayer. A prayer is a whole-bodied invocation to come into accord with the best possible outcome of your gathered intention. A prayer may elevate our being, our sense of connection,  into a transpersonal vigil. When we come into accord with our better nature — with compassionate spirits, or with our transpersonal self – those links inform our thoughts, feelings, and actions. From connections such as these, blessings are born.

From the core of our heart/mind/spirit, we are holding the space for the Beauty that surrounds us in a sincere gesture extended to our fellows, that they come into the field of Potential. We are extending a genuine aspiration that this moment and moments to follow come into harmony. With compassion and conscious intention, we seek to elevate our words or silence into a longing, a living hope, or a transmission of spiritual generosity and balanced fulfillment. Hope is the thing with feathers, and a blessing is wind under wing.

Many blessings
Now, I’m expanding the notion of blessings beyond a greeting, salutation, or single utterance. I’d call it the Blessing Way if the Dine (Navajo) hadn’t already used the term in designation of a specific ceremony.

Blessings extend into a desire that our lives come into accord with Beauty, harmony, and with fortunate and joyful experience. We are sharing our nourishing links with the world or with specific individuals. Here’s an example: On this day and in the days that follow, may you come into accord with the nourishing pathways of your life. Blessings nourish both the one that gathers or holds the space for blessings and the one receiving the blessings – the one who opens themselves to the motion.

Blessings elevate our conversation with Life. When your heart/mind comes into informed contact with a person or persons — whether in thought, through electronic device, in person, or in spirit – it is mindful practice to pause for a moment to hold a space for compassion, goodwill, and loving kindness. Molding that pause to reflect the needs or necessities of the moment is what turns goodwill into blessings. Both joy and intuition are potential fuel for blessings –reflections from Facebook page Alberto Villoldo moving through the world in connection with your own Source or gestalt of sources, with compassionate spirits, or with the Light that brightens your spirit. Blessings can act like a happiness contagion, spreading like ripples on a pond, or becoming a blessing stream.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

— John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

Words are not required to encourage a blessing. Sometimes, a blessing space vibrates in a gathered silence…

Photo source: Facebook page Alberto Villoldo

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9 Responses to What is a Blessing?

  1. Irina says:

    I love your essay, Jim. First of all, I like the Ferrari joke 🙂 Seriously, your interpretation of Blessing relieves me of feeling hesitant and awkward saying “Bless you” to someone. Not because the sentiment isn’t there, but because I usually think to myself: “Who am I to bless another person? I am not God!” Sort of like your parents’ attitude (despite my godless upbringing). Funny, isn’t it, especially since I like it when other people say “Bless you” to me. Perhaps it’s just being shy, or having a limited understanding of what blessing means, or both. Anyway, with your help I am over this hurdle. Thank you and bless you!

  2. Irina says:

    Another thought on Blessing. I now realize that I always felt more comfortable saying “God bless you” than simply “bless you” because it seemed less ego-centered. But on further reflection, there is no need to feel separate from God in the act of blessing; one can think of it as the ‘God within’ doing the blessing.

  3. Jim says:

    Thank you Irina. I liked the joke as well, though as a ten-year-old I thought a Ferrari was some kind of exotic animal pet. So I was a bit disappointed to learn it was a car. A thought occurred to me as I read your comment: I like the simplicity of “Bless you, ” allow the motion of blessing to fill in the details between…
    Bless you.

  4. Imke says:

    Thank you, I enjoyed your thoughts on this!
    Something that came to my mind when reading was, that an offered blessing creates the openess and the possibility in your mind/soul, that something good can happen. Only once we believe something and can see or feel it inside, we can receive it. So if someone blesses something or a person, it is like creating the vision of the possibility and helping you to strengthen your believe/trust in it.

  5. jeromeyers says:

    This is truly beautiful and clear.

  6. Ramona says:

    A vital but often overlooked spiritual practice, so glad you felt moved to write about it, Jim. A favorite book about the practice is by the renowned spiritual teacher David Spangler, “Blessing: The Art and the Practice,” full of David’s tender insights. http://amzn.to/1pl8bXx
    As John O’Donohue’s quotation indicates, bestowing blessings was a daily practice of Celtic Christian folk in the British Isles.

    • Jim says:

      Thanks for the comment and book referral. You know, I haven’t even read John O’Donohue, though I heard his last public interview. So, after writing this I decided to get one of his books from the library, just brought it home tonight: To Bless the Space Between Us. Now, a Rumi quote is coming to me: Be the person so that when you walk into a room, luck flows to the person who needs it most. Yes, this is a rich topic.

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