Thursday, February 4, 2016

bless our presentations

 and I’m half crazy with the wonder of it — the abundance of the leaves, 
the quietness of the branches, the hopelessness of my effort.
 And I am in that delicious and important place, 
roaring with laughter, full of earth-praise.
― Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings


I am leaning against the kitchen counter, listening to the morning Radiolab, the rush hour traffic beginning its shrill roar of sirens and tires screeching outside, and the pop pop pop of incoming messages from Nathan. The sound of thoughts boiling and conversation brewing. The sounds of the day churning into waking.
I am watching the tea kettle steam, and the dark leaves of the tree in the backyard swaying in the deep shadows of the twilight morning air, and Sean's big box of green tea teeter precariously on the shelf above the oven.
I am eating eggs and toast, and waiting for the grilled cheese I have made for lunch to be finished, poking at the browning bread as it sizzles in the skillet on the stove-top. I am thinking about the words of the Gloria we sang yesterday at Mass.

We praise you
We bless you
We adore you

We bless you.

And I wonder what it means to bless the Lord, exactly, what it could possibly mean to "bless" God. And, while we're digging through these thoughts, I might as well ask what a "blessing" is. In many ways that we use the word, it seems to mean someone who has bestowing something on someone else, a someone who has not. It is me, who has, bestowing something on him, who does not have.

As I slowly chew my eggs and listen for the whistle of the tea kettle, I think wonder if there is something in this moment that blesses the Lord.

~

Back in the day--the Old English day--"bless" was the verb that was chosen to translate benedicere, which means to speak well of. To bless someone, I infer, means to speak well of them, or to give them a good word, to speak words to them that are good. Perhaps blessings are fundamentally linked to words. Perhaps, our words of blessings remind us that all our words have a power in them that we usually do not attend to. Words leave our lips quickly and glibly throughout the day. But maybe words of blessing have a power in them that we usually neglect to attribute to our ordinary words. Our words are not just sound. They carry with them the power to build something beautiful or cut and destroy.

Bless, the verb, also comes from the Proto-Germanic blodison  which means to "hallow with blood." That's a word you can really get behind. "To hallow with blood" is not a half-assed word. It is not for the milk-blooded among us.

This definition of blessing baffles me. For blessing means to make hallowed. To consecrate. How can I make holy Holiness Himself? What sort of benediction can I offer the font of all blessings?

I sit in the over-heated lady chapel in St. Ignatius Loyola, and ponder the baroque architecture of Schickel and Ditmars, I think that this church is just another fumbling attempt of the human race to bless God. A pathetic little Holy of Holies.

In front of the tabernacle is just a simple white candle. Which seems a terribly inadequate symbol of the presence of the Lord. If God really is fully, entirely, substantially present in the little white host nestled in the small box on the wall, then shouldn't there be a greater sign of his presence than this ordinary little flame? Shouldn't there be more beauty, more grandeur--shouldn't there be here the most grandeur and beauty and majesty our human hands can make?

When I think of what would make a sufficiently perfect temple for the Lord, suddenly the thrusts of marble and the gilded vaults seem like such a foolish home for the Lord, the architect of the sunrise, the designer of photosynthesis, the engineer of RNA. There is such an elegance in nature that even our cathedrals cannot capture. The grand church seems jejune in comparison to the constructions of the natural world. How silly of us to think that these marble pillars could adequately house our God.

But again, I think. Is this not the whole point of learning to bless the Lord? To bless means to attempt to make holy what we have been given, a foundering, imperfect effort though it may be. To bless means to attempt to hallow with beauty, if not with blood, the raw materials of our earth. We are stumbling, imperfect creatures. And this church is an imperfect offering of love. But is not this simple, childish blessing what we are being commanded to offer?

How do I make holy Holiness Himself? How do I hallow in blood Him who hallowed me in His?

The great foolishness  and great wonderof creation is that God put His hope in us. That God loved us, and in loving us gave us the power to wound Him, to curse Him and not to bless Him. To speak ill of Him, to leave a moment unconsecrated. The love of God for man is total gift-love, but also, for the vision of Creation to be fulfilled, you and I are needed. You and I are required to be present at the wedding feast, where Creation sings to bless the Blesser, the Blessed, and the Blessing between them.

And perhaps learning to bless the Lord is learning to consecrate each moment, turn each particle of time into a canticle of praise. It seems so intimate. But perhaps blessings are intimate affairs.

Again. The praise. Praise: to express our admiration and love. To glorify. But to bless. To bless has to be something different than just regular old praise. I think of the canticle of Daniel:

Mountains and hills, bless the Lord;
Everything growing on earth, bless the Lord;
Seas and rivers, bless the Lord;
You sea monsters and all water creatures, bless the Lord;
All you birds of the air, bless the Lord;

 The tapestry of blessing that these words weave seems an intimate portrait of love. The blessing of Creation upon the Lord is an intimate love affair. It is an imperfect gift, in exchange for a perfect one, the way you offer your parents a small gift like a book or a scarf in return for your life.

~

So I take this moment in the kitchen, this moment wrapped in the freshness of morning, the creature comforts of breakfast, and the joy of love, and try to offer it to the One who gave it. I try to bless it, the way Schickel and Ditmars blessed the marble from which they built the sanctuary. Or, more accurately speaking, this moment is blessing the Lord. As the voices of Jed and Rob yammer happily in the background, I sprinkle blood (metaphorically) on this moment. This moment has been hallowed.
The tea kettle sings, and I pour the water into the thermos in a smooth, calm stream. Outside, rain is hanging in the February morning, falling onto the ground in a gentle mist. The rain is hallowing the thirsty earth with water, not with blood.

How do I make holy Holiness Himself? How do I hallow in blood Him who hallowed me in His?


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