What is it in us that craves blessing? Last night I had the privilege of offering the benediction at an Eagle Scout Court of Honor for one of our teens, Matthew Farr. (For a glimpse of his Eagle Scout project, check out one of the videos he created for us – http://stalbansdc.org/learn/resources/feed-the-hungry/. Hunt around our website. You’ll find more of his handiwork.)
It was moving to see a community of friends and family, mentors and fellow parishioners gather to uphold this young man. But the night also led me to wonder why we have such prayers at services like these. It was an interfaith context, so I was asked to offer a blessing that wasn’t explicitly Christian – so as many people as possible could feel included. After all, I suppose, a blessing that feels targeted to some and not others doesn’t feel like much of a blessing.
A cynic might say that we’re looking for unconditional approval in seeking God’s blessing, a blank check to do whatever is right in our own eyes and then get the Almighty’s OK on it. But I think the need goes deeper than that. According to one of my mentors, Jerome Berryman, a blessing affirms us where we are and yet calls forth the best in us. So it’s more than just seeking divine approval; we want someone, particularly God, to see our potential and call us on it.
So how did I offer a blessing without being able to use the explicitly Christian language in which I’m most fluent? Well, different circumstances call for different kinds of blessings. There are times when we don’t need to be told to do more, when we really just need to be reminded of God’s presence and ultimate favor in order to find the courage to do the next right thing. In that sense, it’s hard to beat the old blessing of Aaron’s from the book of Numbers: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).
But given the crowd last night, given the values of the Boy Scouts and their desire to live these things out in real time, I figured they were up for more of a challenge. They were ready to have their best called forth. So I adapted the blessing Bishop Mariann gave at the Inaugural Prayer Service last month – one also found in the Church of England’s Common Worship. The basis of the text is from Romans 12, altered slightly to a room filled with many faiths. It ends something like this:
“Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast to what is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honor everyone; love and serve your God, and may the blessing of God Almighty be with you and remain with you this day and forevermore. Amen.”
A call for God’s abiding presence to guide and sustain us, along with just the right amount of marching orders. Sounds like a blessing to me.