When I was a young priest I had occasion to visit a contemplative community of sisters. An old sister opened the door. Knowing that I was a new priest, she asked for my first blessing. I stood over this contemplative and drew on every resource I knew to invoke the most intimate blessing. As I was completing the blessing, it struck me how ironical this situation was: here was a contemplative who had spent over sixty years of her life navigating the searing silence and darkness of God, yet she was asking a twenty-five-year-old for his blessing. When she stood up I decided to kneel down and ask her for her blessing. She seemed utterly taken aback; she mumbled something and practically ran out of the room. She must never have had such a request for her blessing before. This was a woman who practised a totally contemplative life, and yet the system made her feel that she could not bless, and, conversely, it made me think I could. This experience led me to question who had the authority and power to bless.
Who has the power to bless? This question is not to be answered simply by the description of one’s institutional status or membership. But perhaps there are deeper questions hidden here: What do you bless with? Or where do you bless from? When you bless another, you first gather yourself; you reach below your surface mind and personality, down to the deeper source within you – namely, the soul. Blessing is from soul to soul. And the key to who you are is your soul.
Excerpt from John O’Donohue’s To bless the Space between Us