Blessing in Theory and Practice

Folk healers in my ancestral homeland are often called benedetti, meaning blessed ones. It comes from the Latin word benedicere, “to speak well of” or “to praise”; in other words, “to worship”. Their tools are simple: prayer, olive oil, salt, holy cards. Lots of sacramentals, like the candles that Catholics around the world will bring to be blessed at Candlemas services today. Candlemas candles are lit in times of crisis such as during storms or serious illness, and at the bedside of the dying.

My friend Dena’s family maintained more of these ancestral folkways. Her family taught her to bless olive oil and use it to heal. It just seemed like common sense to her when she was growing up. Of course anyone could bless oil; never mind what the Church might say about it. Dena inspired me to bless my own candles for Candlemas this year.

Last rites and interminable rites

On Wednesday, one of the longest religious ceremonies ever recorded—a 96-day vigil in the Netherlands—came to an end. A medieval Dutch law forbids police to interrupt church services. Ministers at Bethel Church in The Hague conducted liturgy around the clock in order to prevent a family of five from being deported back to Armenia where they were likely to suffer persecution due to their political activism. The church service only stopped when officials confirmed the threat of deportation was over.

There is power in any act of worship. In this case, the remedy to possible violence was to make every moment an act of worship.

Every day, we must do some small thing to prepare for the future. Small actions performed daily create big results over time. Do you have a candle ready to comfort the dying? Are you ready to start praying like someone’s life depends on it, and not stop until the danger has passed?

How to bless basically anything

Step 1

Remember where and when you are. Are you awake or are you dreaming? That’s a good place to start. What led you to this very moment? That’s an ancestral mystery. If it seems like there was no moment before this one, you might be dreaming. If you’re awake, remind yourself what day it is. If you can, look up where the planets are, or at least what phase the moon is in.

Step 2

Breathe. You’re already doing it right now, so I don’t need to explain much. You can breathe onto the object. Three is a good number of breaths. Try to feel the object breathing, even though it might not be.

Step 3

Recognize that this object already is and has always been holy.

The problem with blessing is the narrative that we have built up around it. In that narrative, the whole world as we know it is impure and waiting for us to come along and cleanse it before we can use it.

How would our perspective change if we honored the world for its rich history, independent of its interaction with us? If we took a moment to celebrate meeting something like a new bottle of olive oil and thank it for bringing its medicine to us, rather than telling it that we are the ones who will make it “pure” and “powerful”?

We are already at church, after all, and the service has already begun.