From The Gentle Art of Blessing
Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out. (Deuteronomy 28:6)
Blessing is a millennial art. In the religious context, blessings have existed throughout centuries across almost all cultures. Lay forms of blessings also permeate our culture in the form of housewarming parties, the European custom of mounting an evergreen on the gable of a new house once the roof has been erected, the rice thrown on newlyweds, and so on. In some regions of the Swiss Alps, shepherds today sing out a blessing through a very primitive kind of wooden megaphone to the four cardinal directions. North American Indians have tribal blessings for numerous occasions.
Caitlín Matthews, in her book, The Little Book of Celtic Blessings, shows that blessings have long been used in all circumstances of life. Many blessings rest on the understanding that there exists a universal power, a fundamental principle of harmony governing all things, to which people may appeal. Here, for instance, is “Blessing for a Lover”:
You are the star of each night,
You are the brightness of every morning,
You are the story of each guest,
You are the report of every land.
No evil shall befall you.
On hill nor bank,
In field or valley,
On mountain or in glen.
Neither above nor below,
Neither in sea,
Nor on shore, in skies above,
Nor the depths.
You are the kernel of my heart,
You are the face of my sun,
You are the harp of my music,
You are the crown of my company.
In numerous preindustrial cultures, blessings accompanies all the important activities of life: sowing and reaping, hunting and fishing, crafts production and the preparation of meals, for example. The Old Testament brims with acts of blessing (also giving examples of its opposite, cursing). For instance, in the book of Numbers it is reported that when the Israelites were returning to their homeland, King Balak attempted to hire the services of a great seer of the time, Balaam, to curse them. Balaam, it is said, received God’s order to do the exact contrary, i.e., bless the Israelites, which deeply frustrated the king. The very first thing God himself did after creating man and woman was bless them, (Genesis 1:28).
In the book of Deuteronomy, (v. 30:19), the writer draws a parallel between the act of blessing and life itself, and also between cursing and death. “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” The limited, personal sense of blessing prevalent during Biblical times, however, meant that the blessing which Jacob “stole” from his brother Esau could no longer be bestowed upon the latter, because it had already been “given” away – as if true blessings could possibly be limited!
The following Biblical passage from Deuteronomy 28:3-8 stresses beautifully – and poetically – how concretely blessing applies to every situation in life:
Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store.
Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out…The Lord shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto; and he shall bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
The “Lord thy God” is the principle of unconditional love upholding the universe, and the “land” can also refer to a state of consciousness. It is our state of consciousness that determines whether and how we receive these blessings. They are at all times simply pouring down onto us, so immense is the generosity of life.
As these brief examples show, blessings are as old as humanity itself, stretching across religions and cultures, and through all circumstances of life.