Isn’t that cute. Who doesn’t love a Panda sneezing. So I have to say as much as I love the internet and may even consider it a blessing, it is how shall I say interesting sometimes.
There are hundreds of youtube videos, no exaggeration some lasting an hour long that are compilations of people sneezing, that’s it, just sneezing for an hour and it had a million hits. What an interesting world we live in.
The reason I showed this is because my first memory of the word bless was when I was young and I think this is probably common to most of us, after I sneezed someone would say God Bless you or bless you. Its almost instinctual, we say it often without thinking. In fact it has just become an act of being polite. But being who I am, even as a child, I would always ask the question but why. But why? The answer just because, or because I said so, never did satisfy me. Whether it was about religion, or why do we have hour long videos of sneezing or the one I will answer today, why do we say bless you after we sneeze. I am blessed with curiousity
Some believed that your soul was your breath and you could lose your soul by sneezing.
Some believed that sneezing created an opportunity for demons to steal your soul.
The phrase God Bless You after sneezing is thought to have been formalized by Pope Gregory I in the late sixth century. The Roman Empire was in the throes of a devastating plague, which the symptoms included coughing and sneezing. Gregory suggested saying God bless you after sneezing as a prayer to protect them from an death. In that case a blessing was used to ward off illness and death. My parents would use the word Gesundheit a German/Yiddish word that roughly translates “to your health” which to me sounds better then I hope you don’t die or lose your soul.
We don’t often use the word blessing here. Its true certain words come with baggage.
We seem to infer meaning to the word blessing as to be asking for a supernatural or mystical power to bestow upon us good fortune. For me a blessing is an act of intentional gratefulness.
Even the simple blessing of the food at a meal. Buddhism calls their food blessing the five contemplations. That is all a blessing is, to be intentional about contemplating our actions and our gratitude for what we have in life and what we hope for those who we bless.
Matthew Fox In his book “Original Blessings writes
“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. A blessing spirituality is a relating spirituality.”
It is an intentional act of letting someone know that others care for them. Too often we lead isolated lives and everyone struggles at times in their own ways, and just knowing that someone else cares about your well being can be life affirming. And to remember actually helping someone is a blessing.
In our meditation group on Tuesday night we end with a lovingkindness meditation, and part of it I ask people to visualize someone they know who needs lovingkindness. Why don’t we try this now. If you are willing, close your eyes and Visualize someone you know in your life or someone you know who needs lovingkindness and now repeat after me.
May you be filled with lovingkindness
May you be peaceful and at ease
May you be well
May you be happy. (open eyes)
Doing this, first reminds us that we are not the only person in the world that needs lovingkindness.
It reminds us to remember that there are others in need as well.
It is also a calling for us to remember to act with compassion towards others knowing they are struggling in some way. Whether it is at the checkout line at the grocery store, your child your parent your partner, or your fellow congregant. Even as we have seen recently in the public square, people who outwardly appeared to have it all, and have it all together were struggling deeply.
Wayne Muller in his book sabbath asks us to silently bless others. He says
“Just imagine going through your day looking for excuses to wish people well or think the best of them rather than looking for threats and assuming ill intent.it connects us to others, helping us acknowledge common struggles and hungers.”
If we are busy blessing others as opposed to cursing others, it changes our perspective of the universe. It can lead us to be calmer and less angry, it can lead us to be kinder and less vindictive It can lead us to feel more connected to others and feel less alienated. Lastly we should remember to bless ourselves.
I find that is the hardest to do for most people.
It is a reminder that each of us in our way is a unique beautiful soul with a spark of the divine within each of us.
If we see the divine within ourselves, it also makes it easier then to see it in others. And vice-versa
We are often so filled up with self doubt and loathing, noticing our own imperfections more easily and more often then others. This is a leftover hangover from our puritanical cultural background of original sin and the need for redemption. Growing up in the Jewish tradition, and in truth in most religious traditions there is no concept of original sin.
In Judaism, the story of adam and eve biting the apple is not a story of disobedience, but a story of fulfilling human destiny to acquire wisdom. Even in early Christianity sin and redemption were not a focus. It is not in the teachings of Jesus, but rather Paul and really didn’t take hold until the fourth century with the Christian Theologian Augustine and then coopted and indoctrinated by the Roman Empire to keep its subjects in check.
It is why I love the title of the book by Matthew Fox “Original Blessings” We are all born with blessings or with goodness. By offering a blessing to ourselves or another person we are not offering a supernatural wish but rather we are inviting one to see what is already within them. To see our best selves, to see our relationship to life as a natural and beautiful part of this universe, to see ourselves in our soul in our raw unvarnished and untarnished natural state of goodness, and by doing so, we will move away from indifference and to engagement with a life of meaning and compassion. If we have the courage to engage and widen our understanding we will see ourselves as part of the larger universe and when we do, we will be able look upon the ourselves, each other, and the planet with awe , wonder, love and compassion.
And this is not some new age concept, this is as old as humanity itself. It is right here within each one of us waiting to be uncovered, waiting to be discovered. The desire to not merely survive but to live fully, and by doing so, we can live with the wholeness of who we are, and that my friends, that is holy. In the Jewish Scriptures in Deuteronomy chapter 30 after the Jewish people were expelled from their land by the Babylonians, Yahweh gave the Jewish people the following blessing with I share with you today
“Open up your heart…to love, with all your heart with all your soul in order that you may live. Surely, this instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you,
nor is it beyond reach.It is not in the heavens, that you should say who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?
Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?
No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it. I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, if you would live, by loving.“
There is no need to be in exile from yourself.
You can start on your journey home to your true self, right here, right now.
I hope you can find it in your hearts to let others love you for who you are, and for you to love others for who they are. By doing this, you choose life.
As we now enter into our time for the offertory and joys and sorrow, I encourage you to silently bless yourself and to contemplate who could use your blessing and silently bless them.
Once you have had a chance to make an offering, we invite you come down and to light a candle to mark a joy or sorrow in your life. Let this sacred time begin
Part II Richardson, Jan. The Cure for Sorrow: The Healing That Comes (sorry the formatting is off)
“I know how long you have been
waiting for your story to take a different turn,
how far you have gone
in search of what will mend you
and make you whole.
I bear no remedy, no cure, no miracle
for the easing of your pain.
But I know the medicine
that lives in a story that has been broken open.
I know the healing that comes
in ceasing to hide ourselves
away with fingers clutched
around the fragments we think are none but ours.
See how they fit together,
these shards we have been carrying
how in their meeting they make a way we could not find alone.”
In the song we heard by the Pretenders she sings “, I'm alive like you. I’ll stand by you”
This is so true, If you are alive inside it is hard not to feel emotional as our values and our rights are being decimated. Separating children from their families, just one of the many acts of inhumanity we see on a daily basis from our government toward our black and brown siblings. Many of you stood in witness at the courthouse in Davenport as our neighbors were jailed because of their place of birth. “
Many of you marched with each other yesterday in the Pride parade supporting and celebrating the LGBTQ community even as other members in the community are spewing forth profanity and homophobic statements and the supreme court of this country supported discrimination based on sexual orientation. We need each other to keep hope alive. That is what we do, we journey with each other to brave new worlds, to explore new ideas to cross new frontiers in search of a better way of living, we do this together because it is not something we can do alone. Just like the need to bless others, we need others to journey together to that place we have never been and never seen, but a place in our hearts we know we can call home.
We stand on threshold waiting to move on to something better but so often we hesitate.
The unknown, the untested, the seemingly impossible. Just the thought of crossing this threshold can raise our emotions. Sometimes it is excitement and hope but it can also raise fear and sadness. We know with everything decision we make there is something lost and something gained. By moving forward into the unknown, we choose to give up the status quo, the known, maybe even the safe. Crossing the threshold requires trust. Trust in ourselves to listen to that still small voice within that calls us to a new horizon. Whether that new horizon is a new idea, a new job, a new relationship, or even a new attitude towards ones existing ideas, jobs or relationship. And it requires trust in each other that we will support each other on the journey.
It takes courage to take that first step, but I promise you when you do, your life will become more authentic. You will no longer shrink into the shadows, for you know who you are and what you believe and your values will be in harmony with your actions. And by doing so, I can assure you will feel alive and you will live a full life. No matter how long your life is.
So I invite you to consider all that you are blessed with in your life. (even if it is for a roof over your head and food on your table, something not everyone even here can always assure) For some it is writing, others speaking, or listening, or singing, or working with your hands, or parenting, or engineering, or teaching, or healing, or creativity, or accounting, some are natural gifts, some are learned, some are blessings of birth and circumstances, but however you obtained them, whatever they are I encourage you to look within yourself, and find your blessing and then you must ask how can I share my blessing, for an unused blessing, a blessing that doesn’t see the light of day shrivels up and dies, but if it is watered like a flower reaching for the sun it grows,
and then we must ask, how can I use my blessing to make the world better. For the world is full of lessons of how people used their blessings for destruction and devastation. Let us intention
nally use our blessings in good life affirming, loving ways. And when you have doubts, and fear and confusion remember you are not alone. Together we can pass that threshold of wonder and awe together and because we are together, because we have found each other on this journey of life, that in and of itself is a blessing. May it be so.