“So sweet & pure the little place looks now that all is ready – & we all met there this afternoon to give it into the Hands of the Prince of Life & Love to be a fresh dwelling place for Him in the heart of the native town.” 15 March 1911
A book arrived in the mail – totally unexpected – a jolt of joy. The sender rightly divined that I, like her, would love it. A House Blessing*, rich in visuals (culled from paintings and book illustrations and even antique French wallpaper), begins with a general blessing: “I bless this house and all those who dwell within it, and wish for them a full portion of life’s beauty.”
It moves from room to room providing a “blessing” for its places and spaces dignifying their various functions with purpose. Table: “Let mealtimes be far more than the fulfillment of a necessity. In this home food shall be prepared with grace and eaten with gratitude.” Living room: “May beauty reign here, and lovely objects renew us by their silence and perfection.” Common rooms: “May this be a place where the laughter of babies is heard, and the gravity of children is answered with loving respect.” The final blessing sighs its benediction: “Bless this house. May angels guard its corners, and may gifts fall upon it as snow falls upon a field. Let those within it share numberless passages of the sun and moon and happiness fill them to overflowing.”
Blessing. To bless (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) is “to consecrate by a spoken form;” “to pronounce words that confer divine favor;” “to confer well-being upon; to make happy; to prosper.” We “bless” things, intentionally or indifferently, all day long. Our food. Our country. A friend. Even a sneeze! Many have taken to signing off a letter with the single word, “Blessings.” So common has a blessing become that it has been degraded in our culture to a patronizing term: “Bless her or his – heart” (preferably with a southern accent).
The blessing has strong roots in our Judeo-Christian heritage. The first-born received a special blessing along with certain privileges and responsibilities. But the other members of a family were likewise blessed in turn, by the father, through a ritual involving touch, a spoken message attaching value to them and picturing for them a special future sometimes captured in a name. Implicit in the blessing was the value of the individual and a commitment to create a nurturing environment to further that end.
A house blessing is a short remove from the above. Home, potentially, is a sacred space where the most basic routines can be hallowed – even sacramental – sanctified by the spirit in which even the most profane duties are performed.
Lilias had a keen sense of place. She strategized, as vehicles for ministry, opening homes first in the ancient Casbah amongst the Arab people, then in nearby villages along the coast, and eventually deeper into the desert. How she loved to create a home, sometimes out of a literal hovel, and transform it into a place of peace. From their very first habitation in Algiers until the final dwelling in Algeria, Lilias and her colleagues would commit each house and each room of each house with a prayer for God’s Divine blessing. House blessings. And often they would name it with the essence of its potential: Dar Naama (House of Grace). . . El Naama (Room of Grace, a “slumpost”) . . . Oulad es Sultane (Children of the King – “May its dwellers be all worthy of the title”).
A House Blessing touches a deep place in my heart. I have experienced the blessing of “home” from my earliest moments on earth. That has, no doubt, informed my own view of home from our first upstairs apartment during Dave’s seminary years (scent of cigar from downstairs dwellers greeting us each morning!) to our present home – the first house we have owned, having previously lived in apartments and manses. Our home, our place – wherever whatever it has been – is the space within which we dwell and from which which go out into the world. It is where we raised our children and to which our children now return as guests. And it is, as long as God gives the strength, the place in which we choose to embrace others in hospitality.
A blessed house. May I – may we never forget that we walk on hallowed ground. . . that our places are more than rooms and furniture and objects of sentiment and practicality. . . May we not settle in so comfortably that we forget their intention: blessed to be a blessing.
*A House Blessing by Welleran Poltarnees (Blue Lantern Books)
Painting: Travel Journal 1900