November 14, 2010

God Routinely Blesses

Baruch Atah, Adonai Elohenu, Melech Ha-Olam…
“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe…”

This ancient Jewish blessing is the start of many, if not most, Jewish prayers. The shofar calls the Jewish men to pause in their work and pray. According to Barbara Brown Taylor, an observant Jew will say “at least a hundred blessing prayers each day…upon waking up…before setting out…wearing new clothes…for pastries, fruit, vegetables, and wine.” This fall we’ve looked at various routines that can bring us closer to God. When we become aware of our routines, we wake up to their real purpose, which is to bring us blessing.

Even the interruptions and discomforts, even the pain and dis-ease of life are ways to find (and be found) by God. Perhaps we would do well to consider the practice of some of our faith predecessors who blessed even the seemingly bad things. Paul talks of being in chains as a way of preaching the Good News: "I want you to know, brethren, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel...the whole praetorian guard and all the ret [know] that my imprisonment is for Christ...the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment." (Philippian 1:12-14)
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God,” says Paul later. (Hebrews 10:31) We have to be open to the blessings that happen every day, all around us! L’Engle adds “We live under the illusion that if we can acquire complete control, we can understand God…but the only way we can brush against the hem of the Lord…is to have the courage, the faith, to abandon control.” When we let go of control and are open to being blessed and to offering blessings for all things, we come closer to God than in the Cathedrals of the world. It is about how we live and are blessed by the One who imbues all things with Life.

A long time ago someone introduced me to the poem “Well” by G.A. Studdart-Kennedy. Studdart-Kennedy was a chaplain during WWI. He earned the nickname “Woodbine Willie” by giving Woodbine brand cigarettes to the wounded soldiers he ministered to. I've always been struck by Studdart-Kennedy's vision of meeting God after death and how that one word 'well?' sums up our response to God's blessings in all that happens, but esp. in our interactions with one another.

This poem is a soldier telling a dream. It’s a bit hard to read until you get into the rhythm of the Cockney accent. He dreams he dies and finds himself beside “a solemn kind o’ sea…A throng ‘o faces came and went, afore me on that shore.” The soldier sees everyone he has met and realizes “the dirty things I’d done to em, when I ‘and’t played the game.” Then “there before me someone stood, just lookin’ dahn at me…
And 'E said nowt, 'E just stood still, For I dunno 'ow long.
It seemed to me like years and years, But time out there's all wrong.
What was 'E like? You're askin' now. Can't word it anyway.
'E just were 'Im, that's all I knows. There's things as words can't say.
It seemed to me as though 'Is face, Were millions rolled in one.
It never changed yet always changed, Like the sea beneath the sun.
'Twere all men's face yet no man's face, And a face no man can see,
And it seemed to say in silent speech, 'Ye did 'em all to me.
'The dirty things ye did to them, 'The filth ye thought was fine,
'Ye did 'em all to me,' it said, 'For all their souls were mine.'
All eyes was in 'Is eyes, – all eyes, My wife's and a million more.
And once I thought as those two eyes Were the eyes of the London whore.
And they was sad, – My Gawd 'ow sad, With tears that seemed to shine,
And quivering bright wi' the speech o' light, They said, ''Er soul was mine.'
And then at last 'E said one word, 'E just said one word 'Well?'”

The narrator, knowing he has failed to live a good life, asks to go to Hell, but
“'E answered 'No
'You can't, that 'Ell is for the blind, 'And not for those that see.
'You know that you 'ave earned it, lad, 'So you must follow me.
'Follow me on by the paths o' pain, 'Seeking what you 'ave seen,
'Until at last you can build the "Is," 'Wi' the bricks o' the "Might 'ave been."'

(From The Unutterable Beauty: The Collected Poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy--you can read the whole poem here)

From the ground we walk on to the people we meet, all are incarnations of the Holy. When we are blessed, we ought to live in a state of returning the blessings. Like the observant Jew and in company with Paul, we ought to try to ask a blessing on everything that comes our way. Some things won’t be easy to bless or find a blessing in. In the Hebrew tradition, a prayer of blessing for bad news is “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, the Judge of Truth.”

It is up to me to be open and aware of the blessings in all things. L’Engle quotes H.A. Williams who says, “Justification by faith means that I have nothing else on which to depend except my receptivity to what I can never own or manage.” I ran across a gentle reminder of the importance of accepting each step as a blessing. Probably you’ve seen the “Daffodil Principle” since it circulates the email regularly. It’s the true story of a Rushing Springs, CA woman who annually, since 1958, planted daffodils on the hill near her home. Apparently tours ended in 2009 (at least according to the articles I found.) (If you haven’t seen it, one version is found on the internet here  and a video of the garden here.)

At the end, the narrator says, “’It makes me sad in a way,' I admitted to Carolyn. 'What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty years ago and had worked away at it 'one bulb at a time' through all those years? Just think what I might have been able to achieve!'
My daughter summed up the message of the day in her usual direct way. 'Start tomorrow,' she said.
She was right. It's so pointless to think of the lost hours of yesterdays. The way to make learning a lesson of celebration instead of a cause for regret is to only ask, 'How can I put this to use today?'”

I hope this series of blog-meditations has left you with some thoughts about how to be receptive and open to the presence and blessing of God in all our routines. I hope this week I can remember to ask “how can I put this to use today?” Next week is Thanksgiving. See you then.

* Quotations from Walking on Water, L’Engle and An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, unless otherwise noted.

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