Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Day I Asked My Son To Bless Me


For the last few weeks at St. Francis House, the student community and I have been kicking around the uncomfortable hypothesis that "an Episcopalian can live a lifetime as an Episcopalian and never feel comfortable and or competent praying with/for another Christian out loud." While this hypothesis doesn't come without a deep love and appreciation for the many and wide-ranging blessings of the Episcopal tradition, naming this reality has allowed our community to seek the possibility of becoming pray-ers for one another with greater intentionality. Becoming a person able to pray for another will not happen by accident, and prayer for a sister or brother in Christ is one of the great gifts we have to give one another in the Church: not just the commitment to pray for, but the patience and courage to pray with.

Last Wednesday, we spent some time around the question, "What obstacles can make it difficult to feel able and/or comfortable to pray with another?" Tonight, we'll spend time around the question, "What obstacles can make it difficult to ask another person for prayer?"

Of course, it is relatively easy to talk about these things. Easy, perhaps, even to lead students in conversations about these things. Still, every once in a while, the Spirit whispers an unexpected possibility into a well-worn corner of ordinary life that transforms the conversation with clarity and joy.

I was putting Jude to bed the other night, and we enacted our evening ritual. "Jude," I said, "You know that Mommy loves you, Daddy loves you, Annie loves you, and God loves you. And God is with you." Then the words a priest and mentor had taught me, even before Annie was born: "Thank you, Jesus, for Jude." I traced the sign of the cross on his head as I spoke. "Amen."

The priest had taught Rebekah and me this short blessing, explaining that even now - in retirement - this blessing is how he and his children greet one another, and how they say goodbye. "Start now," he said, "it's a blessing that will come to define your relationship: thanksgiving for one another in Christ." I was sold.

Except.

Well, four years since we started, it's been kind of one-sided. I've traced more crosses than I can count. The kids are happy to only receive. Don't get me wrong, they've blessed stuffed animals, dolls, and one another. But Mom and Dad, not so much. I didn't take it personally. Truthfully, it felt like a selfish thing to wish for, much less resent. But then, one day, the Spirit whispered into my longing and my reticence. I finished tracing the cross on Jude's head, and I looked up at him. "Jude?" I asked. "Will you bless me?" In the moment that followed, I was awash with vulnerability and embarrassment. Then his eyes lit up.

"Bless Daddy!" He smiled as if a long-awaited privilege had been granted him. He put his two extended hands out in my direction and finally landed on my forehead. "God and Jesus, bless." My heart was filled to bursting. Now, each night, I can't imagine not asking for his prayers.

Looking back, it is strange to me that my first instinct was to feel selfish in asking. When a newly elected Pope Francis stood on his balcony before the throngs and asked the people's blessing, the act was intended and read as one of unprecedented humility. To ask another's prayers is to surrender a kind of control, express vulnerability, even weakness, and also to affirm the work of God in the person one asks for prayer. With each of us, when we are asked to pray - and even if we fear we may not have the words - it is as if a long-awaited privilege has been granted us.

I wonder if you know that your longing to be prayed for intersects deeply with another's true longing for the privilege of praying for you. I wonder what makes this intersection of longings hard for us - hard for me - to remember and/or believe. What a gift, that in God's love for us - and in the love God has given us for one another - our joy is truly made complete.

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