Oakland church

Archive for Blessings

Baptizing Kittens & Pure Intentions

cat nursing kittensOne of my favorite books to give as a gift this Christmas is Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. The book’s narrator is an elderly minister who knows he’s about to die after a long and faithful but fairly quiet life as a pastor. He’s writing to his young son, the child of a late-in-life marriage to a much younger woman, about things like watching his little boy play in the sprinkler, and a young couple walking in the rain. Water, the stuff of life. But he also tells the story of one of his childhood exploits as a preacher’s kid who, with another PK, decided to baptize a litter of kittens. The boys took this all very seriously, he says, but the mother cat didn’t appreciate what they were doing with her babies, and she interrupted their little service and took the kittens away – right in mid-baptism.

Afterward, the preacher’s little boy tries to reflect theologically on what had happened that day, but when he asks his father the pastor – just sort of theoretically, of course – about baptizing cats, he gets a stern lecture about respecting the sacraments. The boy, of course, felt that they had been respectful, for “we thought the whole world of those cats.” Now, at the end of his life and after many years of baptizing the faithful of his flock, the old pastor looks back on that day from his childhood, and he remembers the feel of “those warm little brows,” experiencing the difference between petting a cat and touching it “with the pure intention of blessing it.” 

  This Sunday, in this season of Epiphany, we remember our baptisms. Let us bring our whole selves with our pure intentions to experience God’s blessing. 

St. Patrick’s Day & Irish Blessings

green cloverSt. Patrick’s Day should be a celebration, one that surpasses the kind of ecstasy reached with one too many green beers. This year may St. Patrick’s Day be an occasion to bless and be blessed and a moment to remember the Spirit that draws us to one another in celebration and in sorrow.

To bless someone, in the most literal sense of the word, is to confer your hopes to them. That’s why so many traditional blessings begin with the word “may.”

Take, for instance, what is perhaps the best-known Irish blessing (or toast, as the case may be this time of the year):

© Mircala | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Mircala | Dreamstime Stock Photos

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
The rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

“May” doesn’t mean “so be it.” May implies that something is possible, but not a done deal. May hopes that God puts it in play and that you get out of your own way and allow it to happen.

John O’Donohue, the great contemporary Irish poet/philosopher (and former Catholic priest), knew the power of “may”, and the power of blessing.

Here is a video montage accompanying John reading his poem called “Beannacht”, which means “Blessing” in Irish (from O’Donohue’s Echoes of Memory):

Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.