Thursday, January 02, 2020


The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites; You shall say to them,

the LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

(Numbers 6:22-27)

If I were to sneeze, without a moment’s hesitation the congregation would respond, Bless you. They might also bless their food before eating, and the company if eating with others, and their blessing might extend to the farmer who grew the food on their plate. Beyond that, most would to all intents and purposes see blessing as falling under my role rather than theirs. This is a tragedy, as so many people long for the blessing of their father or mother, given at least on their deathbed, and suffer a profound absence of peace if that blessing is not forthcoming. Yet how can anyone be expected to pronounce a blessing on their deathbed, if they have never been in the habit of practicing? It is true that some somehow find the strength to do so, whether in words or simply by holding on until everyone who needs a blessing is present in the room before they die, but all the same ...

To bless is to participate in the divine nature (as one of our Christmas blessings calls us to do). It is first to behold, and then to ‘keep’ or treasure what or whom we behold as precious in the sight of God (in Christmas keeping with Mary).

Along with a disorienting sense of mild panic, it is not unusual (though not universal) for someone presented with a baby to smile at them. The holder’s face — the beholder’s face — lights up. And from around three months old, most babes will smile back. But we don’t wait until they are three months old, and capable of mirroring, to smile at a baby; we do so from the get-go. In the same way, God smiles on you, and has done from before ever you could respond. This is grace: blessing is a gift, not something we earn.

We have all known what it is to have someone walk into the room, and our face light up. We have also known what it is for someone to walk in the room, and the voice inside our head (or under our breath, at least, please God) to say, Brace yourself. When you walk in the room, God’s face lights up.

When you walk in the room, God looks up from whatever he was doing to meet your gaze. When I am sat in my armchair reading a book and my children come to me, my response can (all too often) make them feel an unwelcome interruption, or a dearly loved daughter or son. A secret: children only ever tell you what is important to them. In time, we can forget the wonder that transforms anything into magic. If we fail to see with the eyes of a child, when that child grows up, they will stop sharing with us what is important to them. God, however, does not grow old. God is always in the present. You have God’s full attention, and, whenever you bless anyone with your attention, however imperfectly, you participate in God.

The ultimate goal of blessing is shared peace, the conferring of well-being. That is what all creation longs for, whether human or other animal or plant or place or ghost waiting to be exorcised. Indeed, the more a person vexes you, the more they may need peace — or, the more you may need to bless them. Either way, don’t put it off. Where there is blessing, vulnerability meets vulnerability in an empowering way — not by removing vulnerability, but by daring to honour the life we share.

To bless is to participate in the divine nature. To bear God’s name. To know that we have been blessed, in all things; and to know that this is a universal truth.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Pass it on.

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