A sermon by Jennifer Comeau
God bless all in this house! This common Irish greeting has, for thousands of years, floated over the thresholds of half-doors in cottages tucked amid verdant hill and wild-flowered vale. In old Ireland, door knockers were for the gentry and priests, those who could afford such a thing. Often visitors just shouted this greeting – God bless all in this house – outside a door, and then pushed it open to make their entrance. “Wide is the door of the little cottage,” is an expression Irish villagers used with pride.
I grew up hearing my mother’s stories about Ireland, that had been passed down to her from her mother and her grandmother, and Himself, her Dad. I grew up singing Ireland’s songs. There’s an expression I love: “The Irish: the only ones whose love songs are sad and war songs are happy.” 😊 Nonetheless, blessings of all kinds were abundant there; in fact, it was the way Irish people moved through the world – the water they swam in…. I’ll get to more about that in a moment.
A few years ago I gave a sermon here entitled, “Approve this Moment,” about how we all are creators, and the moment we are REACTING – to negative circumstances, for example, we are not CREATING from a place of peace, harmony or kinship. In a way, I consider this sermon the 2.0 version, or a deepening of that message at least. Because this sermon takes a stand for the simple practice of being a blessing sender in order to intentionally seed a new landscape of accord and love. Let’s face it; the landscape we’re in is an arid one, parched from a lack of watery blessings.
People say, “you write or teach about what you need,” and this is true of me. As a tender-heart, I need to remember not to be so crushed by the world that my grief or shock turns into anger and judgment. In short: I need this message as much, if not more, than any of you.
In his book, “The Gentle Art of Blessing: A Simple Practice that Will Transform You and Your World,” Pierre Pradervand defines blessing. He writes, “to bless means to wish, unconditionally and from the deepest chamber of your heart, unrestricted good for others and events; it means to hallow, to hold in reverence, to behold with awe that which is always a gift from the Creator. To bless is to acknowledge the omnipresent, universal beauty hidden from material eyes; it is to activate that law of attraction which, from the furthest reaches of the universe, will bring into your life exactly what you need to experience and enjoy”: Blessings. I want to thank my friend, Fran, for making me aware of this book at precisely the time Paula asked me to speak about Celtic Blessings. Accident? No. And by association, my friend, Lynn, who gifted Fran the book.
So how does one become a sender of blessings? One thing seems certain based on Pradervand’s definition of blessing: It is impossible to bless and judge at the same time. By holding the intention and desire to bless from the moment of waking, we stand a chance of shifting away from the separation and “othering” that inflames our world.
Here is another thing that is certain: The heart is the wellspring from which blessings come… The more you can drop into your heart, the more you are able to keep the wellspring of blessings flowing.
The Irish people are a heart-centered folk. Hospitality in Ireland was and is at the height of human decency, as it is in many cultures. At St. Brigid’s well in Kildare, I heard a nun quote an 8th century monk, and it typifies the concept of hospitality as blessing:
I met a stranger yesterday.
I placed food in the eating place,
I placed drink in the drinking place,
And music in the listening place.
And the stranger blessed me and my family and my crops,
And the lark sang in her song: ‘Often, often, often goes The Christ in a stranger’s guise.”
Sir William Wilde, in his circa 1850 publication, IRELAND: HER WIT, PECULIARITIES AND POPULAR SUPERSTITIONS, began with a statement about the Irish people’s belief in the marvelous. “We cannot, therefore, wonder that among the but partially civilized, …yet withal chivalrous inhabitants of a large portion of Ireland, a belief in the marvellous should linger even to the present day.” What does a “belief in the marvelous” mean, exactly? In my research, it would seem Ireland’s long-cherished rituals, bardic storytelling, rites of ceremony with nature, and fairy charms brought a sense of richness, imagination, and wonder to her people, as well as a commitment to preserving blessings as a way of invoking or conjuring these riches.
“A kind deed is never lost, but brings good luck to the doer for evermore,” says the old proverb.
A woven St. Brigit’s Cross adorned the top of every crib, and upon the safe birth of a child, it was ‘sained’ by the midwife, with three drops of water on the child’s forehead, dedicating the child in the name of the Trinity. A candle was also carried around the bed sun-wise (or clockwise) three times, and an old Celtic Blessing said: May the Great Spirits grant you a sunbeam to warm you, a moonbeam to charm you, a sheltering angel so nothing can harm you. Laughter to cheer you, faithful friends near you, and whenever you pray, the Divine to hear you.
Long before Christianity, there was the customary cross-sign made by those traveling who might encounter a strange stirring of dust upon the road, or the unusual sound of beating wings passing by their ears. It was thought to be traveling fairies, or The Good People. So, the gesture: to thrust thumb between fore and middle fingers, and murmur, “God between you and all harm.” was a prayer known to keep safe those who trod the paths of The Good People. “God between you and all harm,” was a blessing. Imagine if we invoked that gesture instead of the usual one when being cut off on the turnpike….? Let’s try it.
To the Irish, kindnesses to the spirits of the land and the imaginal realms were thought to pacify those who had crossed over the thin veil and those who shared a mysterious invisible kinship with humans. Why were these blessings and “superstitions” so prevalent? Because the Irish believed in their potency. The incantations and blessings, as well as the “counter charms” or curses worked because the people believed they did. They understood what quantum physics is now teaching us – because we are energy, we emit a frequency, and whether the frequency is low-level and negative or higher-level and positive is completely down to the attitude we hold, including the words from our lips. It is impossible to bless and judge at the same time.
In “The Gentle Art of Blessing,” Pradervand writes about “The Karma Yoga of Blessing,” and some things to consider when developing a practice of being a blessing sender:
One of these: Do not desire any of the fruits of your action. In other words, be detached from your own expectations of any outcome or credit as a result of the blessing. He writes, “You receive not the slightest expression of praise or gratitude for silent blessings, which is one of the most wonderful dimensions of blessing. This constant selfless giving puts the ego – which normally clamors for recognition – on a radical slimming diet.”
Once again, quantum physics teaches us that focusing on an outcome narrows the field of possibility, and because we often hold our own self-liming beliefs, the truth is, more often than not, our “desired outcome” is way smaller and more diminished than what God might have in mind. So focusing instead on the experience you want a person to have as you bless them is crucial.
For Example, as many of you know, I’ve written a novel set in 1820s Ireland, and have been querying to attract an agent or publisher for years. Yes, years. Is it possible that I’ve been focusing on an outcome – someone saying YES? Very likely. So when I remember to detach from that, and as I press “send” on the query email to a publishing house or agent, I now send along with it a blessing – not for an outcome but for the feeling I hope the agent or publisher will experience when they read the novel’s first pages: inspired, intrigued, drawn in, impressed. Because of this, it’s possible that they will pick up the phone to me and say YES, I want to publish or represent your work. But it’s equally possible, they might pick up the phone to a movie producer instead, and say, “You have to read this – it would make an incredible movie!” If I only focus on the outcome of publication, I might miss my work becoming a movie. I’ll do my best to trust that the best outcome is on its way.
Pradervand writes, “In the practice of blessing, we get to a point where we bless for the sheer joy of it, as a silent song we send out.” But blessing also invokes what he calls the spiritual law that heals. In his epilogue, he writes story after story of the power of healing through blessings. In one such true story, a man had been involved in a serious accident out of which he emerged totally paralyzed. He could only move one little finger, and the doctors had predicted a life of permanent and total disablement. He decided he would spend his time blessing his only mobile limb – his finger! He just spent the whole day blessing it. Soon, a second finger started moving. He added it to his blessings. Then a third, then the whole hand. Little by little this paralyzed man regained the use of his whole body.”
Let’s practice a form of blessing that I use in my workshops: close your eyes or let your gaze be soft. Bring to your mind’s eye someone you know personally who irks you; better yet, someone who infuriates you. Fact is, you don’t like them one bit, although you try to be Christian about it… Take that person you’ve brought to your mind’s eye, and travel with them down to your heart. You might place your hands on your heart to help focus there. Imagine inside the deepest chamber of your heart is a beautiful place — a garden, a lake, a mountain top — whatever brings you joy and ease. Bring this person into your sanctuary there and imagine sharing the love and joy and ease that you feel. Bring them into your peaceful fold. Give them love and blessings…let the rest go.
I don’t know about you, but this simple exercise shifts something in me, and who knows what your next encounter with this person will be like?
In my fast-paced consulting days, one dark night in July, I was journeying home to Portland through Newark. As the airport geared up for its last flights of the evening, the day’s small timing misses here and there culminated in a full hour delay due to air traffic into and out of Newark. Finally, I boarded the plane. Sitting next to me was a woman who, it seemed, was also flying home from a business trip. We collapsed into our seats with relief as the aircraft began to taxi. I caught a glimpse of a very long line of aircraft outside our rain-soaked window. Shortly thereafter, our pilot came on and said, “Sorry to say, folks, we’re number fifty for takeoff. That’s Five Zero.” With exquisite timing, the entire plane groaned. The woman next to me began to grumble about the airline. I thought: Uh-Oh. With the idea of blessings in mind, I focused on creating a warm bubble of ease, in which passengers shared their stories and became kindred spirits during what would be many minutes before takeoff. Mentally, I imagined the entire plane surrounded with good will and the radiance of friendship.
As we confronted the reality of waiting, I began to hear seatmates engage in chit-chat about their reasons for flying to Maine. A group of international students in a row nearby began to chant: “our flight is late – number 7158 – our flight is late – number 7158”, collapsing into giggles after adding swear-words (shit) in three languages. I smiled inwardly, marveling at what was happening. Suddenly I heard, “Well folks, we’ve been sent to the head of the line and we’re now third for takeoff. Flight attendants, prepare for departure.” Everywhere, I heard, “Wow! What a stroke of luck! It’s incredible. Thank God!” I joined in the dialog and then stopped short. Had the blessing changed our fate somehow? I decided that it had. I decided it wasn’t sheer luck. Does the mysterious life energy that connects us all work as simply and as profoundly as that? Well, why not? Masters of the law of attraction would say, “You create a state. You hold a certain tone of being; a resonant energy that attracts what you give off back to you.”
In addition to blessings for teachers, journalists, couples, business leaders, and taxi drivers, Pradervand includes blessings for terrorists and inmates because he believes in the extraordinary power of people’s united intention for change. It’s counter-cultural, and I hope it’s catching on. I’m taking a nine-month initiation into grief and gratitude with a woman named Azul Thome. Last week, we made altars to the very thing we rail against. In South Africa, for example, Marianne made an altar to cement; in Buffalo, Patricia made an altar to racism; in Slovenia, Christina made an altar to Big Pharma. We made altars to artificial intelligence, oil, pesticides, and all that is dying. They were “hospice altars” showing gratitude for the lessons we learned or are learning from their deleterious effects upon human and more-than-human.
In closing, I will share a photo montage that you have helped create. It begins with a portion of a blessing song I wrote in the style of my Irish ancestors, and then the music shifts to a portion of The Blessing, a Gaelic – English song written by Steven Furtick, Chris Brown, Kari Jobe, and Cody Carnes and produced by Steph Macleod. As we witness the photos of beings we care about; beings we love; places that matter; and moments to remember, may you imbue them with your own blessing.
Be a sender of blessings.
Sláinte agus Saol Agat (Agaibh*)
Pronunciation: Slaw-intche agus sail ah-guhth (ah-geev*)
May good health and good life be upon you.