Blessing

17 May

One of the best things I inherited from my predecessor in this job is the practice of pronouncing blessings on each graduate during our baccalaureate service.  Graduation happens on Sunday morning here so our Wesley Foundation community gathers for dinner and worship Saturday night, one final opportunity to worship as this particular incarnation of our faith community, with parents and grandparents and siblings in tow.

At a certain point in the liturgy, I invite the graduates to come forward and one by one they kneel while the rest of us lay hands on them and I pronounce the blessing.  We give thanks for each one by name and for the ways they have blessed us, offering a responsive “Christ be ever with you as you go” following each one.

This, right now, is the week when I write the blessings.  The week between the end of exams and graduation weekend.  Students spend this week at the beach and I spend it remembering the ways in which God has shown up in each of these students during the time we’ve shared.  There have been challenges to successful blessing-writing:  the student who only comes to one weekly event and doesn’t talk much or the student who has been so integral and so well-known that the blessing threatens to go on for pages.  It always takes longer than I think it will and even though part of me dreads it like you do any big, looming project requiring time and space and creativity and energy, I have found myself looking forward to it each year.

Barbara Brown Taylor says that when we bless something we are recognizing it for what it is, giving thanks for the “holiness [that] is already there, embedded in the very givenness of the thing” (An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, New York: HarperOne, 2009, p. 203).   At Wesley we name the silly and the serene.  With the warm weight of our hands on the one who kneels, we say, We see you.  We claim you.  Even as we watch you go, we name and claim all of this you have given and all of who you have been here.  Thank you.  Bless you. 

This benediction on our time at Wesley is both routine (we do it every year, same time, same place, pretty much in the same manner) and deeply, personally specific (our blessings have included love of puffins and slip-n-slides, feminism, and the particulars of someone’s laugh).  I look forward to writing and pronouncing these blessings because they are one of the many ways I get to point out, name, and celebrate what’s holy around here.  Again, Barbara Brown Taylor:  “[T]he key to blessing things is knowing that they beat you to it.  The key to blessing things is to receive their blessing” (Altar, p. 196).

At a time of year when I feel exhausted, running on fumes, and when the bittersweet routine of saying goodbye to students I have traveled with for 4 years or more begins once again – this is the time when I am charged with naming what I’ve seen.  This is the time when we are chock full of the blessings each student has offered us during their time at Wesley; we have received with gusto.  They beat us to it every time, but as they head out the door we send them off with thankfulness and visions of God.

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Deborah loves hiking, cooking, reading, and a good strong cup of coffee. She believes that a rainy day is one of God’s great gifts and that When Harry Met Sally can never be seen or quoted too many times.  When she is not throwing pottery on the wheel, she also enjoys writing, sometimes for the online magazine catapult.   She is an ordained elder in the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church and serves as director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Virginia.  She has been in campus ministry for 11 years and shares the journey with her husband and stepson.

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