When I was a little girl, leaving China with my missionary parents, throughout the arduous journey, for amusement my brother, sixteen months my junior, would join me in our first foray into singing in harmony. We knew the words to the old 19th C. hymn by Johnson Oatman called “Count Your Blessings.”
When along life’s journey you are tempest tossed, when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
I have clear memories of those two little waifs with their treble voices singing, “Count your blessings…” through the gorges of the Yangtze, under house arrest in Hankow, and isolated with chicken pox in Hong Kong. I am sure that at ages 7 and 8, we had very little knowledge of what blessings were or how to count them, but we did like to sing in harmony, and it kept us focused and occupied. The imprinting on my soul, however, was deep and wide for my lifetime. Maybe the singing itself was the blessing I learned to share.
November brings me to attending to blessings again. Despite the dramatic and quotidian ups and downs of the worlds in which we live, or maybe because of them I am still drawn, even compelled to count blessings, especially in this season of the year. Many of them have come to me in Grace as a particular individual. Many come by virtue of my being part of the middle-class in the United States. Many come by the providence of living and working and loving where I do. Despite the long drought in the landscape here in Southern California, I experience daily showers of blessing.
I find though that with each year I am more interested in ways I can give or be a blessing than enumerating my basket full of blessing accrued to me. Possibly it is a perspective from experience, but I am constantly aware of those around me who are in need of blessing, that touch or word or act that is prompted by the Spirit to comfort, to encourage or incarnate the Love of the Holy. Time and tide do ravage our human lives as people, made in the image of God, suffer loss, endure loneliness, get caught in snarled circumstances beyond their control. And they need, sometimes even long for, a blessing.
Jan Richardson and John O’Donahue have been wonderful exemplars for me in their written blessings. They have taught me that there is no human condition too small, no complication too bollixed up that cannot accommodate room for a blessing. So as I go about in this season, moving intentionally toward Thanksgiving day here in the US, I am looking for people, places and things to bless–my breakfast partner and her new grandchild, my friends of old in their struggles with health, my gathering of women whose lives are full, both of grace and challenges. The blessings may look like attentive listening, a welcoming smile, or patience assistance. And as I want to bring blessing to the broken world, I may need to write another check, send another letter to my government leaders, or make sure that everyone is getting out to vote in the cycle of elections.
This prayer came to me this week from the Unity poet James Dillet Freeman:
Make me a blessing, Lord. Help me to assist those needing help, to be a blessing to my fellowmen. Instruct me to speak and when to hold my speech, when to be bold in giving and when to withhold; and if I have not strength enough, then give me strength…Lord, make me love myself and be tender to others. Let there be outpoured on me the gentleness to bless all who have need of gentleness. Give me a word, a touch to fill the lonely life, faith for the ill, and courage to keep hearts up though my own is feeling just as low….
I am blessed to have found this word from this Native American guide this week, and he has given my intention a boost, as I count the blessings I can give, maybe not one by one, but with open heart to the surprises that the Holy One continues to offer through my life.