I recently led an opening reflection at a meeting of the faculty at Oxford College where I talked about blessings. The practice of offering blessings seems rare these days. There was a time when blessings took place regularly – before a meal, as a group set off for a journey, when a child entered the world, at the start of a marriage. I asked our faculty to think about a moment during their week when they felt blessed and then enter the name of the one that blessed them. Thankfully, they participated and flooded the chat with their blessings!
I relish in my calling to a vocation that requires me to think about blessings and then offer them. I am also grateful to have the opportunity to share these blessings in formal ways at Convocations, Commencement ceremonies, weddings and funerals, and even in faculty meetings.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus gave one of his most familiar sermons, the Sermon on the Mount. It is full of blessings. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the peacemakers. At the end of the list of blessings, he says that even those cursed on his account are blessed. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12 NRSV).
As we vote in one of the most consequential elections in November, I am feeling blessed knowing that 2020 is the centennial anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920. The women – known and unknown – in history who persisted through constant oppression to make it to that day bless me. It took activists and reformers close to 100 years to win women the right to vote.
While I feel that blessing today on the one hand, I also feel the curse of racism and white supremacy and those who kept too many people from voting even after 1920. Civil rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer, once said, “I had never heard, until 1962, that black people could register and vote.” She was 44 years old, and she spoke those words 42 years after the first women cast their vote at the ballot box. Still today, voter suppression plagues our society.
Voting is a right and a privilege according to the United States Constitution, but it is not mandatory. For me, voting is a blessing, and I know how privileged I am to say that and to be able to do it. The path to voting for far too many has not been easy. Roadblocks have been and continue to be erected for some (often those not in power and/or most vulnerable). That is wrong or to put it more theologically, it is a sin.
In his book of blessings, To Bless the Space Between Us, John O’Donohue offers a blessing for citizenship that includes these lines:
The industry of distraction
Makes us forget
That we live in a universe.
We have become converts
To the religion of stress
And its deity of progress;
That we may have courage
To turn aside from it all
And come to kneel down before the poor,
To discover what we must do,
How to turn anxiety
Back into anger,
How to find our way home.
If you would like to read the entire blessing with some commentary, I recommend this website: https://onbeing.org/blog/parker-palmer-finding-your-way-home-in-anxious-times/.
If you decide you would like to lean into O’Donohue’s blessing, please be sure you at least vote first.
The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is a United Methodist minister and college chaplain who lives in Oxford, Georgia with his spouse and 7-year-old.