Bless and Be Blessed

Some gleaned realizations on blessing.

I am no expert on the Orthodox Church and its elegant tradition. But, I have “gleaned” some realizations as a result of living alongside these wonderful folks and being blessed by them. So, I share with you what I have learned and the formation I am receiving. I pray my understanding and articulation is adequate.

The monks and nuns of the Eastern Orthodox Church ask for a blessing before and after every activity. What is more, they pray during the whole course of the activity. What is up with that?! What is, on a deeper level, really occurring? What are they seeking, in this concrete behavior, to enter into as a consistent pattern of behavior?

I have come to realize, very gradually – more gradually than I have been comfortable with on many occasions, that they are doing something to be able to do something and this doing is issuing forth from a primary way of seeing their being, the being of God, and the being of the other person and the whole creation. (It is identity driven.

The baptismal candidate, in the Episcopal Church’s rite of Baptism, is charged to “… seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.” I have always hearkened back to that statement as a reminder and tool for each and every encounter. It now, as a result of my meager formation by the folks in the Orthodox Church, occurs to me to be an preparation for embracing the Orthodox way of blessing.

But, the baptismal charge “seek and serve Christ” is difficult. What does the specific expression of love for my neighbor look like?! How do I, specifically locate/identify Christ Jesus somewhere in their life and relate to the person through Christ Jesus.

Knowledge of what I am to do is not enough. I need to be able to do it. Knowledge must become missional.

There are several facets to the response.

The first statement I find that I must make may be the most difficult to grasp. It is, mysteriously, the Holy Spirit who seeks, identifies, and responds to Christ Jesus in the other person. What?! The fact of the matter is, the life of the disciple is life in the dynamic life of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That means that, at one and the same time, our obedience (the exertion of our will) is also the exertion of the will of God through us. Our life is one of divine/human union that is characteristically without confusion and without separation. We dwell in the life of God.

The second statement is not so much a separate statement as much as it is a different way of saying the first statement – God’s life dwells in us. Richard Rohr has put it this way,

“The almost embarrassingly common recurrence of barren—but favored—women in the Old Testament is a brilliant metaphor for “I can’t do it, but God can—and will!” This is summed up and personified in the Virgin Mary, but it is still the same Jewish symbol. In Mary, and in us, we see our own incapacity to make spiritual things happen by our own devices, by our own intelligence, and with our own bodies; but I can receive, trust, and allow God to do it in me and through me.”

After all, Sara laughs behind the tent flap, and Mary does say “how can this be.” In other words, only God can do the very thing He commands US to do ! ! It is “not I” but the Holy Spirit in and through me Who seeks, finds, and embraces Himself in the other person. And yet it must be “I.” The life of God dwells in and expresses Himself through us. The famous “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” statement of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is another example.

These first two statements, or one statement said two different ways, means that only God can seek and serve Himself in the other person. We are co-operators with God in what only God can do and yet is ours to do. We, yet not we, do the impossible. Notice that I am saying, and quite deliberately I might add, that what I can say about my life I must realize is just as true about our life together. The “I” statements are also “we” statements.

It is the “possible impossibility” I/we encounter over and over again not only in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament as well. (By the way, making the impossible somehow possible in order to do it is a trap that the institutional church and the individual believer falls into all the time. The gospel cannot be managed in that way and remain the gospel. I/we end up proclaiming and facilitating a false gospel when I/we go that way.)

Luke 6.27-38
[27] “But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
[28] bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
[29] To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
[30] Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again.
[31] And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.
[32] “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
[33] And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
[34] And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
[35] But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.
[36] Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
[37] “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;
[38] give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Romans 12.9-21
[9] Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
[10] love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
[11] Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord.
[12] Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
[13] Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.
[14] Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
[15] Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
[16] Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited.
[17] Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
[18] If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.
[19] Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
[20] No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”
[21] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Second, the development of this ability (or the release of the ability to put it more accurately) is excruciatingly gradual. At any one given moment, we strive – intentionally and actively in co-operation with the Holy Spirit – using 100% of the maturity we have acquired. That edge is, hopefully, a moving edge – the edge of ongoing transformation. All of this “icon-ed” for us in the growth and development of John the Forerunner, and Jesus the Son of Man who is the Son of God.

Luke 1.80
[80] And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Luke 2.39-40
[39] And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.
[40] And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Third, the comprehensiveness of the will of God to bless in a concrete way in all situations, as articulated in the Luke and Romans passages above means that we must have our intentional gaze on the other person (their being of wellness [read “wholeness”] that God desires to call forth) and not, primarily on our own. Once again, it might help to say it a little differently. We must have come to a deep understanding and conviction that serving the wellness of the being of the other person is, in fact, the best way to serve the wellness of our own being. Or, to put it yet another way, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.” (James 4.10) And, where is the Lord before Whom you humble yourself?? He is in the other person!!

So, the way of blessing another person (“true and laudable service”) is the way of finding the point of union with them. Meeting them where they are with and in the Lord Jesus – where He is with and in them. This way is the way of relinquishing our agenda(s) of measurement (timing – I’m too busy; place – going to where they are rather than demanding they meet you where you are; form – they don’t seem to be showing that they get it [bearing the fruit we think they should bear] or its not spectacular enough or people might get the wrong idea or think we have become lax in our morals [after all that is exactly what they said about Jesus]). That boils down, do you see (?), to just our way(s) of staying in control. Relinquishing that and uniting ourselves to the agenda of God – the timing, place, and form He chooses. Our best laid plans come crashing to the ground. The way of exaltation (blessing – wholeness) is the way of humility (letting go – the breaking down of our matrix of control and measurement and self-willed living).

Permit me to share a relevant word from Saint Therese of the Child Jesus,

Let me share a word from Saint Therese of the Child Jesus,

Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.” I have noticed (and this is very natural) that the most saintly Sisters are the most loved. We seek their company; we render them services without their asking… On the other hand, imperfect souls are not sought out. No doubt we remain within the limits of religious politeness in their regard, but we generally avoid them, fearing lest we say something which isn’t too amiable… This is the conclusion I draw from this: I must seek out in recreation, on free days, the company of the Sisters who are the least agreeable to me in order to carry out with regard to these wounded souls the office of the good Samaritan.

A word, an amiable smile, often suffice to make a sad soul bloom; but it is not principally to attain this end that I wish to practice charity, for I know I would soon become discouraged: a word I shall say with the best intention will perhaps be interpreted wrongly. Also, not to waste my time, I want to be friendly with everybody (and especially with the least amiable Sisters) to give joy to Jesus and respond to the counsel He gives in the Gospel in almost these words: “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not invite your friends, or your brethren, or your relatives, or your rich neighbors, lest perhaps they also invite you in return, and a recompense be made to you. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; and blessed shall you be, because they have nothing to repay you with, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (cf. Lk 14,12-14; Mt 6,4-5) What banquet could a Carmelite offer her Sisters except a spiritual banquet of loving and joyful charity?

As far as I am concerned, I know no other and I want to imitate Saint Paul who “rejoiced with those who rejoice” (Rm 12,15). It is true he wept with the afflicted and tears must sometimes appear in the feast I wish to serve, but I shall always try to change these tears into joy (Jn 16,20), since “the Lord loves a cheerful giver” (2Cor 9,7).

Lets spiral back to where we started. The monks and nuns start off with blessing. They pray for blessing all the way through. They seek a blessing to conclude. They are seeking to have the blessing that lives deep within them [the Holy Spirit] (the blessing they are indeed) to be released and find its consummation in the life of another person. They are seeking the manifestation of the Word – His ongoing incarnation.

The blessing must take concrete – incarnational – expression. What form?? This, these monks and nuns don’t know. They trust that there is such an action. This, they trust, will become known to them and they will be able to express it. The ways of God, become more and more familiar to them as they go. As they mature in the practice of beginning, continuing, and concluding with blessing. The practice is a mentor and a former of their being and doing. They have come to know a lot and can do a lot. They read the Old and New Testaments. They let the concrete examples sink in and become the new pre-conceived notions they use to “immediately” (to quote Mark’s gospel) and intuitively respond in agreement with the movement of the Holy Spirit deep within them Who is responding to His presence in the other person.

The same is true for us. The monastics are to be, in our midst and available to us as models. The monastics are not the only ones. We have such exemplary persons in our lives who are “lay monastics.” Let us learn from them. Let us, humbly recognize, that God desires for us to become such persons for others in as much as God desires to use us in this way.

Like I said, it is an excruciatingly gradual journey of learning and living out what we are learning. But, it is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

Bless and allow yourself to be blessed.

Perhaps these gleaned realizations will be a blessing to you. I pray it is so.

The Lord have mercy and bless.

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