This Lenten season, I have been thinking about the power of blessings.
An old folktale tells about a wealthy man on his deathbed. He called his only child to him and said, "Son, our crops and animals grow so well because I have a magic dust. Every day, before the first rays of dawn, I sprinkle a bit of the magic dust at the four corners of every building, every field and every garden. As long as you continue to do this, our farm will continue to prosper."
The old man coughed painfully, then held a worn cloth sack out toward his son. "Here, take the magic dust. Just never expose it to light, or it will lose its magic."
After his father died, the son, who been more interested in parties and pranks than in the running of the farm, made a point of rising before sunrise every morning and sprinkling the dust where his father had told him to.
To his amazement, the magic worked. The crops and animals continued to thrive, the hired workers on the farm continued to work well, the gardens blossomed beautifully, and the son found himself running a successful farm.
Many years later, on his own deathbed, the son wanted one thing above all: to look at some of this magic dust in the light. So he had the bag brought to him. He loosened the string that held it closed, thrust his hand inside the bag, and withdrew a handful of the precious contents.
Opening his palm in the daylight, he saw...sand. Ordinary sand.
At first he thought that the dust must have turned to sand in the harsh light of the day. Next he felt betrayed: his father had lied to him. But then he began to remember the respectful looks of the hired workers as he walked in the early mornings around every building and field. He remembered the times he had noticed broken fences, drying brooks, and sick livestock.
For the first time, he understood the true magic: every morning, carrying his bag of sand, he had shown up on his farm. By putting his time and effort toward the farm, he had also demonstrated the farm's importance to him. His employees knew he would notice any problem, so they put their attention to solving them, too. This was the true "magic" of the farm's success.
The son died both happier and wiser than he had been as a young man of pleasure.
I see this folktale as sort of a parable about blessings. When we are young, holding a cut finger out to our mother to be kissed- or watching our minister bless our beloved pet or the baptismal water - we take "blessing" as a form of magic, performed by God, Jesus, or their appointed representatives. We see ourselves as only capable of receiving blessings, not of offering them.
As mature Christians, of course, we understand that the power of blessings comes from God's spirit and that such spirit passes through those who bless us. All too often, though, we still fail to see ourselves as capable of passing on these gifts of the spirit to others. We don't see our self as the one who blesses.
Nonetheless, Jesus tells us that we are his hands and feet. He tells us to "go and do likewise." In short, Jesus doesn't want us to be only insignificant pawns in the spreading of blessings. We are to be partners, co-creators, along with Jesus and God. We are to actively bless others.
As much as we might want to bless others, however, it can also seem scary. I feel it myself - and sometimes I see that same hesitation in the eyes of others as they prepare to say, "I bless you...."
Lent is a perfect time for the work of learning better to receive and give blessings. During Lent, we ask ourselves, "What are the most important things in my relationship with God? What are the most important things in my life?" Then we put our attention and actions there, giving up or adding behaviors as needed.
Said differently, Lent is a time to hold a mirror up to ourselves, our families, our communities. Since we are the heirs to the great bag of divine blessings, we can ask,
"Where do I need to sprinkle the 'magic' dust of my attention and deeds? Is it toward alleviating hunger and other struggles in my community? Is it toward enriching my own family life with my full, joyful presence - or with shared times when together we can feel the satisfaction of working for the benefit of others? Is it toward joining with others locally and beyond to speak out for justice, peace, and compassion in human life and society?"
As we walk the road of Lent, let us strive to see ourselves as capable of spreading blessings. Let us own up both to our power to bless and to the responsibility that comes with that power.
Let us understand that the passage from Matthew can work both ways: "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." It is also true that, where we bless others, we and those we bless will gain strength. In other words, where our hearts are, there will also be treasure.
Where we offer blessings, God's spirit will cause the crops to ripen, the animals to grow, and the garden of the earth to prosper. Rev. Pam