Many years ago, there was a well-known song with lyrics that begin by urging people to:
Bless the beasts and the children,
For in this world they have no voice,
They have no choice.
At first glance, this would not seem to have much to do with the scripture we just heard. Except the writer of Mark found it important to show that Jesus would bless the children, wanted to bless the children, became indignant and annoyed when his disciples tried to keep children away. A number of biblical scholars and commentators agree that Jesus likely wanted to bless the children precisely (as the song says) because they have no voice. Children were powerless, utterly dependent upon others, and often thought to have little worth economically. Jesus sought to bless the least among us: those without regard or power or social status.
This runs contrary to many understandings of blessing. Quite often folks whose lives are going well are described as blessed. Or those who have an abundance of money or other signs of good fortune are thought of as blessed. Jan Richardson, however, points out that “Rather than being a measure of God’s favor, a true blessing most often meets us in the place of our greatest need, desperation, or lack” (Circle of Grace, xvi). Blessings invoke and communicate the Divine’s desire for our wholeness and well-being (ibid, xiv).
Jesus blessing the children fits into this understanding of blessing: his action was not a sign of wealth or power or status or even the promise of a good meal at the end of the day. The blessing of Jesus (through laying on of hands) was intended to convey God’s intention of wholeness, grace, and well-being for all people.
Blessing opens a portal between life as it is known to us and life as the Source of love and compassion would have it be for us. Blessing makes us aware of boundless hope and mercy and shalom running deep within creation. Blessing seeks to draw us toward full life, to draw a circle of light around a person “to protect, heal and strengthen” (O’Donohue, 198).
The capacity to offer powerful and meaningful blessings exists within all of us, though it may take a while to build our comfort with the practice of blessing. In a book entitled To Bless the Space Between Us John O’Donohue understands blessing as a deeply spiritual practice capable of stirring new life among us in all circumstances. He understands blessing as a practice we can carry with us into all parts of our lives, like the Irish women who used to make a loaf of bread and bless it by cutting the sign of the cross into the unbaked dough. His own writing includes blessings for daily waking, as well as more difficult moments such as dying or losing a job or blessing one who has been hurtful. And O’Donohue understands that carrying intentions of blessing into the world, offering blessings to others, can be an astonishing gift. A source of sustenance and wisdom. Perhaps even a transformational gift within our communities.
So, in addition to whatever aid we offer to the least among us, we must also learn to communicate blessing. To speak words that surround folks in a light that strengthens and heals, that stirs within others a tiny hint of the unconditional Love pulsing through all. We can learn to do the same in all our interactions and relationships, and for one another. We can learn to say, and mean,
“May you be well.”
“May you be healthy.”
“May you know you are loved.”
“May your grief eventually become the ground for insight.”
“May joy be released in your heart.”
And if we can’t (or won’t) speak such blessings aloud, may we grace each other’s lives with them silently. Or let them enter our prayer lives. Because blessing each other in this congregation, or in any community we’re part of, draws us all more fully into the arms of Christ and the love found there.
Scripture: Mark 10:13-16
-Rev Ruth Moerdyk