About Blessings & Prayers

As I continue to roll out blessings and prayers I have written for individuals over the years, I thought it would be good to share some of my own journey with all of you.  
Prayer is the act and presence of sending this light from the bountifulness of your love to other people to heal, free, and bless them. Where there is love in your life, you should share it spiritually with those who are pushed to the very edge of life. John O'Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
I will always remember the first time someone asked me to pray for her.  She had recently arrived from Germany to our small, coal-mining town on the border of West Virginia.  The stress of the move, a new baby, a sudden cessation of job and school, and the ensuing loneliness had caused her eczema to ignite and flare.  Her face and neck were swollen and raw, and she spent her days in a small apartment, huddled with her books beside the flickering flame of an electric fireplace.

I knew from what she'd told me over tea in our home that her background was completely secular.  But she was desperately lonely, physically miserable, emptied.  She stood in our kitchen and her husband said somewhat sheepishly, "She wonders, before we leave, if you would pray for her."

It was my turn to feel taken aback.  I remember the feelings of uncertainty that washed over me--in my early thirties, I was careful around my members of my community not to sound too Christian or spiritual.  In so many ways, I'd departed from the personally expressive evangelical background of my childhood, finding great solace in the liturgy of the Episcopalian Church and, at that time, in the solid, unadorned testimonies of the Mennonite Church we attended: simplicity, justice, and peace.  Afraid of speaking overused, tired words that for me had no meaning anymore, I'd turned from the vagaries of spontaneous prayer to written prayers and liturgies. And I certainly wasn't offering what seemed like catch phrases from my past like "I'll keep you in my prayers."  Such language often seemed glib and even dismissive of unquantifiable suffering.

But instead of offering a treatise on prayer, I simply stepped up to this young woman, put my hands on her, and spoke the simple words that I spoke every night over my daughters before bed (and still do): May God bless you and keep you, and make his face to shine upon you, and turn his face toward you, and give you peace.

I was greatly surprised and humbled by the power that these words, and this touch, had for someone who had no history or experience or apparent need for prayer.  A while later she asked for prayer again.  Why would she ask for such a thing when she had no religious background, and why was that simple act of receiving a prayer so meaningful?  I was intrigued.

A year later, the pastor of our church asked me to lead the liturgy one Sunday.  Completely undesirous of climbing up to the lectern in front of people, I basically laughed in his face, and then, when I saw he was serious, offered good reasons why I should not.  But he keep urging and so I got up and in a wobbly voice, my face and chest flushed with the hives that shows the whole world I am nervous, I did it.  But beyond my nervousness, something else moved me--I was surprised and humbled at the transcendent process of printed word, borne by my own voice, washing over people, intersecting their own stories and deepest longings.

In the Mennonite Church, liturgy--and by this I mean written prayers--are created by teams of people who dedicate themselves to their creation for the churches.  Therefore they continue to evolve with time and experience.  My pastors, a husband and wife team, added their own written prayers as well, and one Sunday a year church members added their own poetry on "Poetry Sunday."

I felt as intrigued and drawn to this calling out of prayers, echoed and repeated, as I had the first time I discovered the liturgy in college, as if someone had finally given specific expression to the amorphous desires and anger and joy I felt.  Liturgy gave me wings to fly up out of my own limited, self-consciousness to a true home, a home where words formed the sacraments of my longing, joy, and love.  The words became vessels for food and drink, and they nourished us all in very particular ways, according to our need.  That was the beginning of my passion for incarnational and sacramental existence.

When we left our Mennonite Church to move to the Pacific Northwest, my pastors gave us a book: To Bless the Space Between Us by John O'Donohue.  As I read, I was gobsmacked at the power and universality of these blessings.  I could give any of them to anyone, regardless of their spiritual background--and by then I'd learned that the need for prayer knows no specific spiritual background or set of beliefs.  At the intersection of great need, the offer "I'll pray for you" was always welcome.  Prayer crossed over religious boundaries because it was about a human soul crying out to someone or something greater.  Prayers and blessings marked the seasons and events of our lives, made us pause to listen.  So why should the language of prayers unnecessarily exclude?

In O'Donohue's intuitive blessings, I reveled once again in the transcendent power of words to nurture, console, and encourage, to speak into.  Like beloved poets--Rilke, Mary Oliver, Issa and others--O'Donohue clothed longing.  I resonated.  And these were poems specifically meant for sharing--gifts of words.

Poetry is the natural prayer of the human soul.  --Rilke

Blessings call us to see--to recognize and name what is real and good.  That naming is the core of friendship.  Calling out the transcendent, transformative reality of grace and love--that is at the heart of God.  Let me call out all these things for you, friend, recognizing and validating your experience while blessing you with strength and courage.
One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement. When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own. --John O'Donohue, Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong

In recent years, I have been working at a church as an artist-in-residence, writing and speaking prayers and liturgy.  And as I listened to people for whom I wanted to gift a blessing but could not find one to fit their situation, I began to write them.  People have told me that the blessings articulate what they could not find words for.  And just like that day back in our small coal-mining town, I feel humbled and glad.  It is hard for writers to give gifts of their craft, and writing blessings is a way I can do that.  Each blessing comes from deep roots in my own spiritual home, and I offer them freely.

I have come to drag you out of yourself and take you into my heart. I have come to bring out the beauty you never knew you had, and lift you like a prayer to the sky. --Rumi

Though I wrote each one for specific people in very particular circumstances, I believe there is a universality of experience and longing that runs through all of them.  Please feel free to share them or pass them along.  I feel as if they are truly gifts--given to me, given to a loved one, meant for sharing.


Country Girl said…
I love the Rilke quote in this post. I've always felt that, and I'm glad I'm not the only one!
Yes, T, I totally resonate with that too...are you a Rilke fan? I love his Book of Hours.

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