I’ve always had a mixed reaction to this idea of blessing. Largely I reject the premise that God blesses some and not others. So when someone says she’s blessed I tend to churn inside with questions. Is this stance arrogance or gratitude? Who utters these words generally shapes my response too. Surely material prosperity is not the sum of blessings. But when someone tells me to have a blessed day I respond differently. While I may not use these words, I do feel I’ve been bestowed a gift.
In My Grandfather’s Blessings, author and physician Rachel Naomi Remen opens my eyes to a whole new interpretation. Her grandfather, an orthodox Jewish rabbi, shared time and again his view of blessing when she was a young child. According to the Kabbalah, the mystical teachings of Judaism, life’s beginnings included the Holy disintegrating into infinite sparks that spread throughout the universe. Everyone and everything has a God spark, “a sort of diaspora of goodness.”
It is our task as human beings to find the Holy in daily, ordinary life and acknowledge it by saying a blessing. As Remen describes it, blessing life is a mindful act of recognizing those moments and in doing so repairing the world. That sounds both doable and daunting. Remen says it can be as simple as the greeting Namaste said daily in India and at the end of our yoga classes. It simply means, “I see the divine spark in you.” Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast speaks of recognizing each moment as a gift and practicing gratitude. Buddhist scholar and translator to Dalai Lama, Thupten Jinpa invites us to see compassion as a muscle to exercise. All three – Remen, Steindl-Rast, and Jinpa – are convinced that life is strengthened by daily, imperfect acts of kindness.
Life feels very fractious at times – unmanageable, wayward, and divided. Blessings remind us of the power of service. When we’re seeking life and wholeness in improbable places, we find faithfulness everywhere in the world. In small, quiet ways we can serve others not by fixing but looking for the good in each other.
As Remen describes, “prayer is about relationship to God; blessing is about our relationship to the spark of God in one another.” I am drawn to this conciliatory, connected view of blessing. I am not blessed alone. We all are blessed with life, which holds both joy and suffering. In an indifferent world, sometimes cold and forbidding, blessings manifest in each other. So the next time someone says, “Have a blessed day,” consider it an invitation to bless the life that sustains us, swirls around us, and lives within us. L’Chiam, which means to life. Happy New Year.