Excerpt from My Grandfather's Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen M.D., plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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My Grandfather's Blessings

Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging

by Rachel Naomi Remen M.D.

My Grandfather's Blessings
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    Apr 2000, 368 pages

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Blessings come in forms as simple as the greeting commonly used in India. On meeting even a total stranger, one bows and says NAMASTE: I see the divine spark within you. Here we are too often fooled by someone's appearance, their age or illness or anger or meanness or just too busy to recognize that there is in everyone a place of goodness and integrity, no matter how deeply buried. We are too hurried or distracted to stop and bear witness to it. When we recognize the spark of God in others, we blow on it with our attention and strengthen it, no matter how deeply it has been buried or for how long. When we bless someone, we touch the unborn goodness in them and wish it well.

Everything unborn in us and in the world needs blessing. My grandfather believed that the Holy has made all things. "It is up to us to strengthen them and feed them and free them whenever possible to find and fulfill His purposes for them, Neshume-le," he told me. Blessings strengthen life and feed life just as water does. A woman once told me that she did not feel the need to reach out to those around her because she prayed every day. Surely, this was enough. But a prayer is about our relationship to God; a blessing is about our relationship to the spark of God in one another. God may not need our attention as badly as the person next to us on the bus or behind us on line in the supermarket. Everyone in the world matters, and so do their blessings. When we bless others, we offer them refuge from an indifferent world.

The capacity to bless life is in everybody. The power of our blessing is not diminished by illness or age. On the contrary, our blessings become even more powerful as we grow older. They have survived the buffeting of our experience. We may have traveled a long, hard road to the place where we can remember once again who we are. That we have traveled and remembered gives hope to those we bless. Perhaps in time they too can remember this place beyond competition and struggle, this place where we belong to one another.

A blessing is not something that one person gives another. A blessing is a moment of meeting, a certain kind of relationship in which both people involved remember and acknowledge their true nature and worth, and strengthen what is whole in one another. By making a place for wholeness within our relationships, we offer others the opportunity to be whole without shame and become a place of refuge from everything in them and around them that is not genuine. We enable people to remember who they are.

I first learned to do this from people who were dying, people who had moved into a more authentic relationship with those around them because only that which is genuine still had meaning for them. These people had let go of the ways in which they had changed themselves to win approval, and so they made it safe for others to remove their masks as well. Their unwavering acceptance allowed me to remember something almost forgotten. In their presence I realized that many of the ways I had changed myself had made me smaller and in some ways weaker. Parts of myself that I had judged and hidden for years were welcomed and even needed by those who were dying. I felt the life in me blessed by such people; felt it expand to become its real size and shape and power, unashamed. It was a long time before I realized that you do not have to be dying in order to bless others in this way.

Those who bless and serve life find a place of belonging and strength, a refuge from living in ways that are meaningless and empty and lonely. Blessing life moves us closer to each other and closer to our authentic selves. When people are blessed they discover that their lives matter, that there is something in them worthy of blessing. And when you bless others, you may discover this same thing is true about yourself.

We do not serve the weak or the broken. What we serve is the wholeness in each other and the wholeness in life. The part in you that I serve is the same part that is strengthened in me when I serve. Unlike helping and fixing and rescuing, service is mutual. There are many ways to serve and strengthen the life around us: through friendship or parenthood or work, by kindness, by compassion, by generosity or acceptance. Through our philanthropy, our example, our encouragement, our active participation, our belief. No matter how we do this, our service will bless us.

From My Grandfather's Blessings : Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging, by Rachel Naomi Remen. © April 10, 2000 , Rachel Naomi Remen used by permission.

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