“A blessing spirituality is a relating spirituality. One does not bless without investing something of oneself into the receiver of one’s blessing. And one does not receive blessing oblivious of its gracious giver.”
-- Matthew Fox
I knew something was wrong when my phone rang at 5:30 a.m. and I saw that it was my mother calling from California: “Your father had a stroke,” she said. “It’s affecting the right side of his body; he cannot walk and he’s having a hard time finding the right words as he speaks.” When I asked whether I should come out, I heard his voice in the background: “No!” That was a good sign. So, I expressed my love and concern for them, then went through my day in a haze. Not only did I have a very busy day planned, but Bakersfield, CA is difficult to get to from Chicago. That evening was the beginning of my congregation’s Board Retreat, and I had a long planned outing with my daughter that afternoon.
That night, my mother called to say that my father had a second stroke, and was further disoriented. As she shared the news, I realized that I’ve never heard my mother sound so scared or so helpless. I hung up the phone, emotionally paralyzed, uncertain what to do. “What’s it going to take, Alan?” my wife asked. “What’s it going to take for you to go and provide support to your parents?” She paused, and then in response to my silence, she said: “If it was me, I’d have gotten on a plane after the first phone call.”
It was only then, in that moment, that my thoughts became clear and I knew what I had to do. I swung into action, bought a plane ticket, and was at my father’s side the next afternoon. In the month of May, our congregation has been exploring what it means to take a path of blessing. When we reflect on the meaning of blessing, we often refer to a prayer asking for God's favor and protection and we frequently speak of the blessings received, and enjoyed. A crucial part of our spiritual life is to cultivate gratitude and bring our awareness to how we are blessed.
But there’s another side to blessing, which I like to think of as making space in our hearts for remembering what is truly important for us. And it goes beyond even that, it means listening carefully and finding in ourselves the blessings we can share: to give of ourselves, particularly our attention, our compassion and our support. Often these gifts come wrapped in a simple passing comment or gesture of kindness.
Sometimes what we need is simply to take pause, to find stillness and hold the stillness. Sometimes we can’t see what we need to see until someone who loves us puts a hand on our brow to reteach us to recognize our hidden wholeness.
When my mother called with news of my father’s illness, I needed a firm nudge, a kick in the pants. I experienced my wife’s words as the voice of life’s eternal spirit, that still, small voice we aren’t always able to hear because we are too distracted: whether too busy, too focused on our work and family, or too caught up in our own story.
I was with a Pentecostal colleague recently. As we parted, she didn’t say what I typically do: “Have a good day.” Instead she said: “Have a blessed day.” It was a simple farewell, a charge to notice the blessings in my life and, in turn, to be a blessing to the world.
Matthew Fox, the author of Original Blessing, a spiritual classic that suggests seeing our lives shaped by Original Blessing rather than Original Sin, says: “Blessing involves relationship. One does not bless without investing something of oneself into the receiver of one’s blessing. And one does not receive blessing oblivious of its gracious giver.”
It didn’t matter there was an especially long security line at the airport; I was clear and comfortable in my mission. When I arrived at the hospital ICU, I witnessed my father in a very tender space. I was at his side for the next 24 hours, and then there to transition him to home. Thanks to good care and modern medicine, my father has regained much of his capacity. He can even dress and feed himself now. And, I have finally come to understand what people have said to me for years: “As our parents become weaker, we are called to become stronger.”
To use a phrase from John O’Donohue, author of To Bless the Space Between Us, “A blessing spirituality is a relating spirituality. It blesses the space between us. It acknowledges the kinship we all share.” When we make space for blessing, we can respond to whatever life brings. We can celebrate our joys and the people we hold dear. And we can, when life obliges, attend to the most painful realities, even illness or loss.