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The other day I opened a door for an older woman and she said “Bless you.”
I smiled and thanked her and didn’t think about it after that, until I got home and started wondering where the sweet and ancient tradition of bestowing blessings on others came from. Have you ever thought about it?
A blessing infuses actions and words with a sense of the divine; calling down mercy and grace on the one who utters it and the one who receives it. Blessings ask for health—that’s why we say “bless you” when someone sneezes. Blessings accompany babies into the world, encourage our most important activities, even honor the food we eat. To bless someone wishes them well, asks God to protect and guide them; and supplicates a higher, mystical source for protection, good fortune and happiness.
Every great Faith has its blessings. In Tibetan Buddhism, for example, the Dalai Lama often places a symbolic red string called a “protection and blessing cord” around the neck of worshipers. The cord symbolizes an embrace, a compassionate and kind love that remains long after the physical presence of the lama has departed.
In Judaism, the ceremonial practice of raising the hands in blessing—the Dukhanen, or priestly blessing—comes directly from the Torah:
May the Lord bless you, and keep you;
May the Lord make His countenance shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
May the Lord turn His countenance to you and grant you peace. – Numbers 6:24-26.
In Christianity, the best-known blessings come from the Beatitudes, which Christ revealed when he gave the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Mathew 5:3-10.
In Islam, the customary Muslim greeting—“as-salāmu alaikum wa rahmatul-lāhi wa barakātuh,” or simply “As-salamu alaykum”—means “may peace, mercy and blessings of God be upon you.”
The Baha’i teachings confer bounteous blessings on those who live a life of universal love and unity:
Blessed is he who is charitable, for he shall inherit eternal life.
Blessed is he who overlooks the faults of others, for he shall enjoy divine beatitude.
Blessed is he who associates with all with joy and fragrance, for he has obeyed the commands of Baha’u’llah.
Blessed is he who loves mankind, for he has heeded the advice of Baha’u’llah.
Blessed is he who is kind to his enemies, for he has walked in the footsteps of Christ.
Blessed is he who proclaims the doctrine of spiritual brotherhood, for he shall be the child of light.
Blessed is he whose heart is tender and compassionate, for he will throw stones at no one.
Blessed is he who will speak evil of no one, for he hath attained to the good pleasure of the Lord.
Blessed is he who will not uncover the sins of others, for he will become favoured at the threshold of the Almighty.
Blessed is he who hath a forgiving nature, for he will win the spiritual graces of God.
Blessed is he who diffuses only the sweet fragrance of the flowers of friendship and mutual association, for he will obtain a goodly portion of the bounties of the Merciful.
Blessed is he who teaches union and concord, for he will shine like unto a star in heaven.
Blessed is he who practices loving-kindness and co-operation, for he will be encircled with celestial benedictions.
Blessed is he who comforts the downtrodden, for he will be the friend of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, pp. 39-40.
Have you blessed anyone lately?