A Primer on Blessings

Image of the ocean meeting a beach with the text "A Primer on Blessings: women blessing women."

The blessings by poet and United Methodist minister Jan Richardson have been giving me a lot of comfort in recent weeks. Nearly every Zoom church service I plan includes a reading from her book The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief and probably one from Nadia Bolz-Weber’s (ELCA pastor and author) weekly newsletter. I think my current favorite of Richardson’s is Blessing for When the World is Ending, though before the pandemic I carried a small printout of And the Table Will Be Wide: A Blessing for World Communion Sunday with me wherever I went.

These blessings and prayers speak to the specific difficulty of loss and grief within a framework of faith and spirituality that resonate with me today. They provide needed comfort and messages of hope — not kind of hope where God swoops in and fixes everything, but the kind where God is with us as we sit in our grief and loss. This God calls us to create a more just and equitable world.

I first witnessed women giving blessings to other women at a Mormon feminist retreat years ago and the following year gave my first blessing. That first experience was good and awkward, and interesting, so I continued doing it. In recent years, I prefer to write out blessings and send them to the receiver. This gives me time to reflect on my message and word choice so that the blessings better reflect the needs of the receiver.

I’ve been thinking about what blessings mean to me after my faith transition. I’ve come up with a short theory of blessings that goes something like this: we are our best selves when we feel loved and valued by God (if you believe in God), our families (biological, adopted, and/or chosen), and our communities. When we give blessings, we seek to remind people of that love and connect them to feelings of being loved so that they can make decisions or act from a place of love and value.

In this way, blessings aren’t about revealing things, but they are about naming and affirming what is. This process of naming can involve naming the difficulties the person is experiencing, naming the gifts and talents of the person, and naming the love that they give to God/family/community and the love they receive from God/family/community. Don’t try to predict the future or speak beyond what you know to be true, but make the truth beautiful and relevant to that person. Even the process of naming hard truths can be meaningful if they are identified with words of empathy and compassion. We all want to be seen and loved for who we are.

Male priesthood holders have been taught to perform blessings in prescribed ways, but women’s blessings are not bound to those same rules and traditions. Do ask the person what kind of God language (or none) they would prefer. If you are giving a blessing in person, ask the person what kind of physical contact (e.g. hands on head/shoulder or none) would be best for them. Ask the person what the blessing should address or what they hope to get out of the experience. Honor those requests.

What are your thoughts or experiences with giving or receiving women’s blessings?

Nancy Ross

Nancy Ross is an art history professor by day and a sociologist of religion by night. She lives in St. George, Utah with her husband and two daughters and co-hosts the Faith Transitions podcast.

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4 Responses

  1. violadiva says:

    I really love your theory! I think it’s spot on. I wish more ministerial blessings had this as an underlying premise. In women’s blessings, I love how personal the words feel. I knew these people were my friends, but I never knew how much they see deep down to the inside of me until they blessed me. There was a lot of underlying trust in that exchange. As one who gives blessings, I find myself in a position to amplify and validate all the good deeply held inside the person already, and not in a place to give advice or do any fortune telling, but to affirm that they are capable and up to any task set before them. I find that promises of divine intervention are things I can’t make in a blessing, though many men have used such language when blessings me. I tend toward more personal empowerment in that regard.

  2. Eliana Massey says:

    I love your interpretation that blessings are about naming. Great post!

  3. Chiaroscuro says:

    you are so right. we all want to be seen and loved for who we are

  4. Ziff says:

    Nancy, I love this! I love both that you’ve considered what a blessing should be, and the theory you’ve come up with for what’s meaningful for the blessing to be about. “blessings aren’t about revealing things, but they are about naming and affirming what is.” This makes a ton of sense to me. And ViolaDiva, I really like your take too, about how you “amplify and validate all the good deeply held inside the person already.”

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