Flowering From Within
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing” – Galway Kinnell
The word “blessing” can be controversial in UU settings. I’ve heard complaints about it by atheist Unitarian Universalists for many years. The first definition of many religious terms like prayer, faith, belief, spiritual, etc. are all understood to be references to God. The first definition of blessing is “God’s help and protection.” It assumes an understanding of God that knows who I am and chooses to intervene in my life to offer me help and protection. Yet that same deity is not offering help and protection to many others who are far more worthy of it than I am, worthy as I may be for a little divine boost. Sorting out the blessed from the unblessed and why God might want to bless some and not others, like an elementary school classmate of mine who died of leukemia, can be a little disturbing.
Even the second definition is a little suspect: “approval or permission for something.” This assumes an authoritarian stand-in for God such as a governing body, a leader, or a family head. The planning board blessed the design for the house so now it can be built. The mayor crowned the tulip queens and gave them a blessing. The father met the young person who proposed to his child and gave his blessing to the marriage. The hierarchical structure of blessing with the second definition still isn’t very appealing to Unitarian Universalist belief and practice.
I’ve been looking carefully at how my Unitarian Universalist ministerial colleagues like to use the term. I notice most of them like to use the word, but they are not using the first or second definition. They certainly are not seeing themselves as the source of the blessing. So what is going on?
Thankfully there is a third definition of blessing: something that is good or helpful. Instead of focusing on the source of the blessing, be it divine or an authority figure, most of my colleagues are paying attention to the experience of blessing itself which follows from the third definition. It reminds me of our UU Principles. They are statements of our values that can be supported through multiple belief statements. We covenant to affirm and promote, to value, the inherent worth and dignity of all people. We could value people because they are made in the image of God. We could value them because of the preciousness of human birth. We could value each person because Jesus loves all of us without exception. We could value people because we embrace a Utilitarian philosophy. We could value people because it is an optimal way to create a just and peaceful social order.
We could take the same approach with the word blessing, allowing people to bring their own theological or atheistic understanding to the word.
Another observation I have about how Unitarian Universalists use the word is we can be both the receiver of blessing as well as the source. UU’s like to frame blessing as being shared from one person to another. This crosses the boundaries for all three definitions. God might use us as agents of blessing to each other. By being good and helpful we can offer something that another person experiences as good and helpful independent of our social status in the social hierarchy.
What appeals to me the most however is how Galway Kinnell uses blessing. The blessing doesn’t come from any person or deity but is a quality that already exists in us, and may extend beyond us. The offertory music from the service on May 15 had the lyric, “This joy that I have, the world didn’t give it to me.” As a meditator, I’m very attuned to being with the present moment and paying close attention to my inner landscape. What arises within, often spontaneously, may use the words, sensations, and images of the world … but may not be of the world. And in the stillness of sense experience, there is access to knowing a taste of what is not of this world … that is profoundly satisfying … and that blesses us.
That’s the blessing I’m seeking, a blessing to share with the world.