The Weird Power of Blessing: My Struggle with a Strange Tradition

The Weird Power of Blessing: My Struggle with a Strange Tradition

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My daughter was four years old the year our church started doing a Blessing of the Bikes. I wrestled her pink and black bike into the back of my silver Toyota Camry, twisting the handlebars and tires into just the right shape until I could slam the trunk closed. My own mountain bike had been recently purchased. It took an equal amount of contortion—and considerably more upper body strength—to load it onto my also-new bike rack.

As I loaded the car, my mind was also working overtime. I wasn’t sure what to think about this whole business of blessing bikes. In the Bible, there are countless examples of people being blessed. Sometimes directly from God, sometimes mediated by a person. In Deuteronomy 28, the people are promised a blessing for obedience:

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:

Blessings, here, are a transaction. If you do what God says, you’ll have riches, children and land, as the passage goes on to describe.

In an earlier, passage, the people themselves are given the power to bless and curse:

When the LORD your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.
(Deut. 11:29)

And of course we have the favorite story of Jesus blessing the children:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.” (Mark 10:13, also Matt. 19:14 and Luke 18:15)

The examples go on and on but from my rational, modern perspective the whole idea is a little murky.

Blessing from Numbers 6:24-26

In the ancient tradition represented in the Bible, it’s clear that words have power. God speaks and the world is created. The first people are given stewardship over the earth, represented by their command to name the animals. Jesus himself is called the Word made flesh. In that context, blessing (and cursing) make sense. By speaking over something, we are creating a future for it. The words themselves bring our intention alive.

In today’s context, that sounds an awful lot like magic. The right words, said at the right time, make something happen. Abracadabra and all that.

This was why, when my mother-in-law laughingly asked whether the blessing had “worked,” I had no answer. What standard are we supposed to measure these simple words by? Were we now safer as we tooled around the cul de sac? More Christian? Were are bikes now holy modes of transportation? I suspect the answer is “no.”

So I’m a little bit self-conscious as I admit that I’m strangely awed by the act of blessing. In a worship service, my favorite part has always been the benediction. That moment when the minister’s hands go up and the people are sent out in God’s power—it makes my spine tingle, whether I’m on the giving or receiving end of the blessing.

It turns out that there is power in words. When we bless one another, we aren’t changing our fate. We’re claiming our reality. The goal isn’t to say the right words and therefore make something holy. “Abracadabra, this bike is now holy!” That puts too much pressure on the right words and actions of the one giving the blessing. No, the point of blessing is to claim—out loud and with witnesses—that even the most mundane parts of our lives can be sacred. It is to remind ourselves that we belong to God, the world belongs to God, and everything in it should be put to God’s purpose.

Giving a blessing reminds ourselves that we belong to God, the world belongs to God, and… Click To Tweet

My bike no longer bears the ribbon we tied on our handlebars that morning. It quickly became tattered and dirty, then fell off after a couple seasons. But my heart still holds the reminder that each morning bike ride is an act of faith. Or that each family ride to the ice cream shop is love lived out in holy community.

So this year I’m picking up the mantle. We’re doing a blessing of the backpacks at church before school starts this year. I’m also thinking about doing more blessings here at home, although I’m not quite sure how that will look. And I’d be curious to hear from any of you: what’s your experience of blessing and being blessed? Is it part of your family life? Your church experience?

4 thoughts on “The Weird Power of Blessing: My Struggle with a Strange Tradition

  1. Beautiful. Makes me think of Jami sharing with us that the practice of Judaism is to share or acknowledge 100 blessings each and every day. Not such a bad practice.

  2. Enjoyed your thoughts on blessings. Growing up Presbyterian, we didn’t do that “Catholic” kind of things I guess, though I am drawn to it, the blessing of people / things / events. Like you indicated it’s more about becoming aware of the sacred in everything and acknowledging it. Thanks again for your thoughts.

    1. Thanks, Linda. I didn’t grow up doing it either, at least not much. You know what’s funny, though? It was a Presbyterian church that did the blessing of the bikes! Maybe we’re all just rediscovering the power and importance of claiming these sacred things.

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