Archive for blessings

Shadowy faith

Adoration of the Christ Child Gerard van Honthorst c. 1620

Adoration of the Child, Gerard van Honthorst, c. 1620


The fact that faith is shadowy is a blessing; it tempers the light to the eye’s weakness and prepares the eye for the light, for it is written: ‘He cleansed their hearts by faith’. Faith therefore does not quench the light but protects it. If you cannot yet grasp the naked truth is it not worthwhile to possess it wrapped in a veil?


Bernard of Clairveaux
On the Song of Songs 31.9; CF 7:132
quoted In the School of Love: An Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts. ed. by Edith Scholl, OCSO (Kalamazoo: 2000), p.72.

Thinking well




To think well is to serve God in the interior court: To have a mind composed of Divine Thoughts, and set in frame, to be like Him within. To conceive aright and to enjoy the world, is to conceive the Holy Ghost, and to see His Love: which is the Mind of the Father. And this more pleaseth Him than many Worlds, could we create as fair and great as this. For when you are once acquainted with the world, you will find the goodness and wisdom of God so manifest therein, that it was impossible another, or better should be made. Which being made to be enjoyed, nothing can please or serve Him more, than the Soul that enjoys it. For that Soul doth accomplish the end of His desire in Creating it.


Thomas Traherne (1636? – 1674), Centuries of Meditation, (First Century, 10).

A little lectio

Deliver me, O Lord, by your hand 
from those whose portion in life is this world;

Whose bellies you fill with your treasure, 
who are well supplied with children
and leave their wealth to their little ones.

But at my vindication I shall see your face; 
when I awake, I shall be satisfied, beholding
your likeness.

Psalm 17: 14-16


These three verses spoke to me today. “Deliver me…from those whose portion in life is this world.”  It’s a striking description of the dynasties of wealth and power that control the earth and fill the news. It sums up their reach through time and the limits of that reach. And I love the way that vindication–satisfaction–comes on the other side of death. Are the wicked destroyed? Did they ever suffer? It doesn’t matter. The powerful have had their time, and we wake to behold the face of God.


A New Testament verse also struck me, and it felt like a sort of defiant acceptance of self–a sentiment with which I am familiar.  Perhaps, if you’ve ever felt out of step with the rest of humanity, you’ll know what I mean.


…by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.

I Corinthians 15: 10a


O my Lord, my Lord, I thank Thee
for that I am,
that I am alive,
that I am rational:
for nurture,
for education,
for Thy gifts of grace,
for redemption,
for calling,
further calling manifold:
for forbearance,
long longsuffering towards me,
many times,
many years,
until now:
for all good offices I have received,
good speed I have gotten:
for any good thing done:
for the use of things present,
thy promise
and my hope
touching the fruition of the good things to come:
for my parents honest and good,
teachers gentle,
benefactors always to be had in remembrance,
colleagues likeminded,
hearers attentive,
friends sincere,
retainers faithful:
for all who have stood me in good stead
by their writings,
their sermons,
for these things and all other,
which I wot of, which I wot not of,
open and secret,
things I remember, things I have forgotten withal,
things done to me after my will or yet against my will,
I confess to Thee and bless Thee and give thanks unto Thee,
and I will confess and bless and give thanks to Thee
all the days of my life.
What thanks can I render to God again
for all the benefits that He hath done unto me?


Lancelot Andrewes

via James Kiefer, The Lectionary

Lancelot Andrewes (State 1) by Wenceslaus Hollar

Lancelot Andrewes (State 1)
by Wenceslaus Hollar University of Toronto Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection via Wikimedia Commons

God loves the world

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

“This is My Father’s World”
Words: Malt­bie D. Bab­cock, 1901
Music: Terra Beata, tra­di­tion­al Eng­lish mel­o­dy, ar­ranged by Frank­lin L. Shep­pard

Couldn’t keep it to myself

Life of Christ Visualized: no.2053 1943 Photo: VCU Libraries

Life of Christ Visualized: no.2053 1943
Image: VCU Libraries


As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

 Luke 19:37-40


I said I wasn’t gonna tell nobody, but I couldn’t keep it to myself…
what the Lord has done for me.
You oughta been there when He saved my soul.
That Sunday morning when He put my name on the roll.
I started walking, started talking, started singing, started shouting
about what the Lord has done for me. 

–Professor Alex Bradford

Brothers and blessings

Smothers Brothers album


And James and John, the sons of Zeb′edee, came forward to him, and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:35-45

For many of us, our first thought on hearing this passage is “Be careful what you wish for.” James and John, thinking they will receive status and honor, declare themselves able, and receive a cup that even Jesus prayed might pass without his drinking. The disciples, hearing this exchange, become indignant–who wouldn’t? Truth is, we probably get a bit indignant too. We want to ask those sons of Zebedee, “What were you trying to do? Do you think you’re better than the rest of us?”

But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking”  then he asks them a question, “Are you able…” and grants them what he can.

Why does Jesus give them anything? Why doesn’t he just turn them away? They ask for a fish; does he give them a serpent? Is it trick? Is it a lesson? Is it a blessing?

I think again about Jacob and Esau. In that story, Isaac blesses Jacob “Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.” Esau, who asks his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” is answered with a complicated blessing that does not undo the one that was stolen. Isaac declares that Esau’s life will be one of deprivation and violence, but end in freedom.

Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be,
and away from the dew of heaven on high.
By your sword you shall live,
and you shall serve your brother;
but when you break loose
you shall break his yoke from your neck.

Gen 27:39-40

Perhaps Jesus’ answer to James and John, and his explanation to the ten can resonate for us as a mirror-like reversal of the blessings of Jacob and Esau. Perhaps that’s why he mentions the way those in power lord it over the Gentiles–Gentiles who are outsiders, not Jews and family like the twelve.

But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.

We grab for Jacob’s blessing and wind up with Esau’s. We think we will be in authority over our brothers and sisters, and find we serve instead. And yet, the yoke is easy, and the burden is light, and there is much to learn.


Have you but one blessing?

Law and Grace, 1529 Lucas Cranach the Elder Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Law and Grace, 1529
Lucas Cranach the Elder
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

My musings today are a bit tangled, but I’ll see if I can unravel them at least to the point of semi-intelligibility. Sometimes that’s as good as it gets with me and the Bible.

This morning I read again the story of Esau discovering that Jacob has stolen his blessing (Genesis 27: 30-45).  I felt Esau’s anguish and dismay so keenly today. His voice is especially strong in verses 34 – 38:

When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” But he said, “Your brother came with guile, and he has taken away your blessing.”  Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright; and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?”  Isaac answered Esau, “Behold, I have made him your lord, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?”  Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.

 That last cry “Have you but one blessing, my father?” gave me pause. In my mind “father” became “Father” and I thought about God’s blessings, and how with God there is always more–more grace, more love, more peace and joy. You will never approach the throne of grace to hear, “Sorry, all out of blessings. I gave my last one to the guy in front of you in the line.”

And that led me to another thought. From time to time I hear people express something along the lines of what they call “supersessionism” or “replacement theology,” usually meaning that the Church has replaced the Jews in God’s affection and plans. It all has to do with our trying to sort out the relationship between the Law and Grace (both of which come from God), and our wondering if God ever changes his mind or takes back a promise. These are thorny issues–wicked problems perhaps–or they seem that way whenever we try to figure out eternal mysteries in a temporal world. I’m not equipped to render judgement on such topics, but I do wonder if, while pondering how salvation works, we sometimes think God’s blessings are limited like Isaac’s.

Jacob and Esau. Neither one of them comes out looking like a saint, but they seem so very human. Two brothers, two nations, contending from their birth. Fighting over all the things we always fight over: love, attention, limited resources, power.  Scarcity brings out the worst in us it. May God’s endless love bring us to better than we can ask or imagine.


Bless us, everyone!

Christ giving his blessing Hans Memling, 1481 Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Christ giving his blessing
Hans Memling, 1481
Photo: Wikimedia Commons


“I think it is a big mistake to perpetuate the illusion that only certain people can bless things.  Not everyone is vulnerable to this illusion, I know. Plenty of people say grace over meals in their own homes, asking God to bless the food they are about to receive from the divine bounty. A number more bless their children at bedtime, asking God to bring those children safely through the night. Where I live, you can sneeze in line at the post office and receive half a dozen blessings from people you do not even know.

… a blessing does not confer holiness. The holiness is already there, embedded in the very givenness of the thing….Because God made these beings, they share in God’s own holiness, whether or not they meet your minimum requirements for a blessing.

…That we are able to bless one another at all is evidence that we have been blessed, whether we can remember when or not. That we are willing to bless one another is miracle enough to stagger the very stars.”


Excerpts from “The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings” in An Altar in the World. A Geography of Faith, by Barbara Brown Taylor.

Holy fellowship

There is nothing in human life better than mutual love nor anything sweeter than holy fellowship. To love and be loved is a sweet exchange, the joy of one’s whole life, the recompense of blessedness. What can be lacking in the sweetness of this good and pleasant dwelling, this place where God dwells and where he rests? ‘God is in his holy place, God, who makes those of one mind to dwell in a house’.


Baldwin of Forde
In the School of Love: an Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts, p. 126.
This passage translated by David N. Bell.