Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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Everyday Grace: Welcome the New Year with blessing
by Mary Cronk Farrell, for the Inland Register
(From the Jan. 18, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)
The whole family enjoys our New Year’s house blessing. Over the years it has become a tradition that includes both solemn prayer and uproarious laughter.
We start at the front door of our home with a small bowl of holy water and a branch snipped off the Christmas tree. “God bless all who enter this door in the coming year. Bless us as we come and go. Keep us safely in your care, and may our hearts and our door always be open to offer hospitality to all.”
My husband or I start with this or a similar prayer, then dip the branch in the water and sprinkle the door. We travel through the house stopping in each room to bless and spatter, taking turns to give everyone a chance to participate. We include the bathrooms, the stairway, and even the broom closet if necessary.
The children hate to see any holy water left over.
The drops of water and patter of prayer fall on the lifeless wood and plaster of our home, but we’re actually asking for blessing on the life we share between these walls. It’s not the house, but the relationships within, the work, the rest, the words, and the stillness.
Blessing is not magic. We do not make something blessed; rather we recognize and draw attention to the holiness that has already been infused by God. We notice the sacred present in our sometimes mundane and mostly ordinary life. We open our eyes to our part in God’s creative work. In The Seeker’s Catechism, Michael Francis Pennock says blessing is “a communication of God’s life to us.”
In Scripture we see blessing as movement and growth. For instance, the blessing of Abraham moves him time and again to faithfulness. It proceeds through him to all his descendants. Blessing is not static, but draws us to deeper relationship with God.
To call for blessing in each room of our home is a powerful ritual. It’s fun for the children, marching around and throwing water with no threat of reprisal. But it’s the strong medicine of faith too. I see it in the eyes of my youngest son, hear it in his earnest words as he leads us in prayer in his bedroom: “God, bless this room and everyone who comes in and my stuffed animals Stevie Bunny, Nick, Swoop and Gecko.”
It’s enough to bring tears to a mother’s eyes. Especially when followed by the muttered words of a teenager: “God, bless this room and help me get a good night’s sleep knowing I’ll do my homework sometime tomorrow.”
Our house blessing tradition started eight years ago when we had just moved into our house. It grew out of our excitement over our new home and our hopes for our life in a new town. We performed the ritual with much solemnity on New Years’ Day.
In the years since, we’ve relaxed a bit. If we get to it on New Year’s, great. If not, well, maybe on Epiphany, or sometime before the end of January.
I try not to censor my children’s prayers, which can be a challenge while blessing the bathroom. My tendency is to be long-winded and holy-sounding. Luckily our family is balanced by my husband’s sense of humor. The children seem to take after him with relish, and I’m left hoping God has a similar funnybone. But I was able to sound an enthusiastic “Amen” the time my daughter prayed, “God, bless this room and help me clean it when it gets messy.”
The truth is, despite a New Year’s house blessing, life in our home will continue to be messy. Our interactions will sometimes be less than loving, our motivations less than pure. But this simple annual custom serves to remind us that in the midst of our humanness, exists a spark of the holy. The practice of blessing demonstrates our reliance on God as we start the new year.
(Mary Farrell is a Spokane freelance journalist and children’s writer.)
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