To Bless and To Be Blessed

“May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the hart of wonder.”

This is one of many exquisite blessings from a most beloved book that was a gift from a dear friend, To Bless the Space Between Us, by John O’Donohue.

I often open this book when I want to offer Mr. O’Donohue’s sublimely-resplendent words to someone who is grieving, celebrating, or transitioning through a significant life threshold. It contains blessings not only for mothers, fathers and the elderly, but also for farmers, addicts, nurses and prisoners. There are blessings for animals, water, air and fire. It offers blessings for expected events like a birthday, marriage, new home or retirement, as well as for more unusual situations like passing a graveyard, for work, or for someone awakening to the trauma of their past.

The Lenten-reflection word for today is, Bless. In his book, Mr. O’Donohue reflects on the lost art of the blessing, and presents a compelling case for its necessity in our lives:

“While our culture is all gloss and pace on the outside, within it is too often haunted and lost. The commercial edge of so-called ‘progress’ has cut away a huge region of human tissue and webbing that has held us in communion with one another. We have fallen out of belonging. Consequently, when we stand before crucial thresholds in our lives, we have no rituals to protect, encourage and guide us as we cross over into the unknown. For such crossings, we need to find new words.”

The word blessing comes from the Old English: blestian, meaning to sanctify or consecrate with blood. Initially recoiling at the thought, I read further in O’Donohue’s explanation:

“It is interesting that though the word blessing sounds abstract, a thing of the word and the air, in its original meaning it was vitally connected to the life force.”

Blood, as in the source of life — for all of us. This insight shed a completely new light on how I understand what it really means to receive a blessing, as well as to be a blessing to another. In the written or spoken honoring of the deep-calling-unto-deep connection with another, we bless, and are blessed. And, in so doing, O’Donohue posits, tangible transformation takes place:

“I believe each of us can bless. When a blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere. Some of the plenitude flows into our hearts from the invisible neighborhood of loving kindness. In the light and reverence of blessing, a person or situation becomes illuminated in a completely new way. In a dead wall a new window opens, in dense darkness a path starts to glimmer, and into a broken heart healing falls like morning dew.”

And so, I offer, from Mr. O’Donohue’s eloquence, a blessing for you and for me, upon entering a new day:

“May I live this day

Compassionate of heart,

Clear in word,

Gracious in awareness,

Courageous in thought,

Generous in love.”

Plural Power

I believe it was Aristotle that said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” He was, of course, referring to synergy — the one-plus-one-equals-three power that comes when two or more people come together with a purpose.

With today’s Lenten reflection word, “Powers” (yes, that’s Power with an “s”), we are invited to think beyond our individual abilities and gifts, and consider the possibilities of the plural.

I recently read a story about a contest that was held in rural Canada to determine who had the strongest ox. The competition was very close, with the winning ox pulling 9,000 pounds and the runner-up pulling just over 8,500 pounds. After the competition, a question arose among the crowd of how weight much the two  strongest oxen could pull. The people decided to find out, and the wagering began. Some bet that the combined pulled weight would be 16,000 pounds; others decided to think big, and wagered closer to 18,000 pounds. The two oxen were yoked together, pulling together with all their might — a whopping 26,000 pounds.

That’s Powers with an “s,” folks!

I wonder, what kind of powerful change could be made with my brains and your brawn? What could we co-create with your drawings and my words? What injustices could be overcome with my patience and your passion? What problems could be solved with your logic and my intuition? What is possible when the unique power of one comes together with the equally-unique power of another?

Maybe somewhere between the three and the 26,000? Or maybe, there is no limit at all.

synergy push pull marketing 

In the Garden

I love seeing posts from Facebook friends from places like the beach, a favorite restaurant or even their local Crossfit gym, declaring, “I’m in my happy place!”

This morning, when I saw that today’s Lenten-practice word was PLACE, I remembered a cross-stitched saying by Dorothy Frances Gurney that was on my grandmother’s wall when I was a young girl:

“The kiss of the sun for pardon,

The song of the birds for mirth,

One is nearer God’s heart in a garden

Than anywhere else on earth.”

My happy place is in a garden. Any garden. Or, in a nursery; full of plants that will eventually make their home in someone’s garden. I love the ritual of planting — of digging just the right size of hole, loosening and, when needed, augmenting the soil, adding fertilizer, arranging the roots, filling the hole, watering in the plant, and stepping back to see the fruits of my labors.

I like to read the plant tag that tells me how large the plant will become. The photo in this blog post is from my own garden. I bought the pink and white sunpatiens in the spring, when they were very small. I could scarcely believe the plant tag when it stated that these puny starter plants would become 18 – 24″ across. With time, and water and fertilizer — Voila! these lovelies graced the stone path through my garden for nearly an entire summer.

That’s what a garden is for me — a place of possibilities.

In my view, James Taylor hit the nail on the head when he penned the lyrics to his song, Up Er Mai (named for a trek he made up a mountain in China):

“We could never have guessed

We were already blessed

There we were, where we are In the garden.”

I’m with you on that one, Mr. Taylor!

What’s your happy place?

Leaving a Mark

Admittedly, I am not the most graceful person on my feet. “You’re like a bull in a china shop” was a exasperated phrase uttered frequently by my mom when I was growing up. Last week, I bumped my shin into the side of my dresser. As someone who bruises easily, I thought, “Well, that’s going to leave a mark.” Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed a nasty bruise on my shin. It took me a minute, but I remembered my recent not-so-pleasant encounter with a piece of furniture. Sure enough, it leave a mark.

“REMEMBER.” That’s today’s word in the continuing Lenten-practice. It’s about leaving a mark.

On my silent, contemplative walk today, I saw a tree that had been burned at one time. I wondered how it happened. Was a child, a teen-ager or an adult to blame? Was it accidental? Was it as a result of a childish dare, or of adolescent rebellion? All I know is that whatever happened, whenever it happened, left a mark on this tree’s trunk for all to see. And, if the perpetrators still live in the neighborhood, I can imagine that they remember what happened, every time they see this tree.

Because it left a mark.

Today’s encounter with the burned tree deepened my awareness of the mark that the words and actions of others left on my life. Like, the day in sixth grade when my teacher told me that I had a beautiful voice after my first-ever (nerve-racking) public solo of “Streets of Loredo.” Mr. Dunn’s words left a mark. I also remember the sting of shame I felt when my first grade teacher held up my ditto homework paper (Note: those of you who are younger than 50 might need to look up what a ditto is) and announced to the entire class that I had gotten every one of the problems wrong. “I can’t believe it,” Mrs. Paul said, “because the assignment was as easy as pie.” At the time, I didn’t understand whether making a pie was easy or hard, but I can tell you that those words also left a mark. Another vivid memory, all of these years later.

Today’s encounter with the burned tree also deepened my awareness of the mark that my own words and actions have left on someone else. I remember the look of delight on a friend’s face when something I’ve said or done left behind a mark of love. I also remember hearing the catch of hurt in another’s voice when something I’ve said or done left behind a mark of judgment or pain.

Our minds are filled a lifetime of memories that are added-unto every day, as our life continues to unfold. We remember a fun day, a caring hug. We remember an unkind word, a shove on the playground. Each of these experiences leaves its mark on how we see ourselves.

Please, God, I pray, help me remember the crucial lesson of the burned tree trunk as I move through my days.

Our Perfectly Imperfect Path

“… there are no wrong turns, only unexpected paths.”

Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

I was reminded today of an old story, recounted by Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening. This story offers rich insight and thought-provoking questions about today’s Lenten-focus word: “PATH.”

A young man in Alaska is stranding in the bitter cold on the side of a road, holding a handmade sign reading, “MIAMI.” He has been standing there for such a long time that his frigid fingers can barely hold his sign, and he is swiftly losing hope of hitching a ride to this warm destination. After many hours, a friendly trucker stops and says, “Well, I’m not going to Miami, but I am going as far as Fort Lauderdale. Dejected, the young man says, “Oh,” and sends the trucker on his way.

My chuckle over this story is short-lived, as I realize how many times I have turned down an opportunity because it wasn’t exactly what my metaphoric handmade sign stated. How often do I lose sight of the possibilities, right where I am because I insist on all or nothing?

I am reminded of the old saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Like an ancient labyrinth, I see the winding turns of my life – paths that sometimes make unexpected hair-pin turns, and then end up, after lengthy travel, in a spot that is closer to where I began than I’d like to admit. Was I looking for my own “Miami?” And, when I think about it, aside from my self-imposed cold from standing outside with my sign, wasn’t my “Alaska” a beautiful place in its own right?

And then I read Nepo’s reminder that in our lives, there are really no wrong turns. The unexpected path, when honored and journeyed, often brings us to a place that we could not have imagined. Like our young hitchhiker, perhaps our life’s purpose, or our soulmate is found someplace other than Miami.

Maybe what we need today is found right here in the path, where “X” marks the spot?

Covenant

COVENANT. That is the focus-word for the 6th day of Lent in this year’s word-a-day practice. As I entered the day with this word in mind, my thoughts went first to the obvious: the covenant-sign of a rainbow that God placed in the sky as a covenant to Noah after the story of the flood. A visual reminder of the covenant of life between God and humankind.

“Okay,” I thought, “that’s that. Today’s word is pretty easy.” That is, until I decided to look up its origin in the dictionary. That’s when my preconceived notion was put on its on its metaphorical ear. The word, covenant, has its origins in the Old French word, convenīre, which means to come together or to agree.

Come together? Agree? Those are two-sided concepts; not one-sided. Somehow, I always thought of this particular covenant as something God promised to us. That beautiful rainbow after the rain, there in the sky just to remind us to receive the promise of life. An open-my-arms-wide-and-recieve kind of covenant. Nothing required on my end except to just receive — right?

Wrong. I really did know better. I worked with legal documents for many years in my job with a major technology corporation. An agreement always included two parties and two signatures. There was always reciprocal terms – Party A does this and Party B does that.

I thought of the vows that Randy and I wrote to each other for our wedding day. I lovingly spoke my vows to Randy, and he, equally-lovingly, spoke his vows to me. It was a public declaration of our commitment to, and compromises for the other. Can you imagine a wedding where vows were spoken by only one spouse?

This realization stopped me in my tracks. If God entered into a life-focused covenant with Noah and all humankind, what is our part in this covenant – not only to God, but to each other as human beings, as well as to our own selves? How often have I failed to live up to my end of the agreement? What is it that I covenant with God each day? With other human beings? With this planet? With myself?

These questions; so close to my heart as I went through my day. I can tell you that it changed how I viewed the other person in the elevator, in the parking lot, walking in my neighborhood. It changed how I looked at the beauty of the natural world around me. It changed how I view myself. And it changed my conversation and communion with God.

Each of these, an entity to whom I make a love-filled vow every single day – and open wide my heart to hear its echo back to me.

Cyclamen in February

Today’s Lent-practice word is JOY. Finally, an easier word! Snippets of joy from my day included:

  • The extra-creamy smoothness of my morning smoothie
  • Planting cyclamen on a February day
  • The comfort of warm water flowing over my shoulders as I showered
  • The anticipation of sharing a coffee conversation with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in weeks
  • The over-the-top, from-the-toes joy of the coffee shop cashier as he delightedly took our drink orders; so glad that this shift was in a new Tully’s location away from the one he normally works, serving “grumpy” (his words, not mine!) Boeing workers
  • The warmth of the light-lines being off-and-on painted across the right side of my face as the late-afternoon sun danced between passing trees as I drove (nearly the speed limit!) down Interstate 405
  • The clink-clink of my cat’s collar tag as it clanked against his food bowl, as he happily ate after a few weeks of unexplained lack of appetite
  • Amongst the bills and unwanted catalogs, receiving an actual card from someone I love in my mail today
  • Daylight at 5:20 pm!

And being reminded of this lovely quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:

“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God”

And you, friend? What brought joy to your soul today?