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Blessing of the Backpacks

Amelia, age 4, after her first day of preschool in 2018

I have always loved back to school season. As a child I looked forward to picking out my new folder and composition book, eagerly watching as my mother painstakingly wrote our names on every item that would accompany us on our first day of school. When I finally graduated for the last time, I would find myself in the back-to-school section of Target, looking wistfully at the bins of 24 count crayons and Bic highlighters. Sometimes I grabbed a box or two—$0.25 is a great price for crayons, after all.

This year is different, though. This year I have two excited five-year-olds who don’t quite understand the concept of a supply list. They want new lunch boxes even though their preschool ones are fine; they want the folders with kittens and unicorns instead of the plain red and yellow requested by the teacher. They want the MEGA pack of crayons. In another week or so I will sit on my bed with their supplies scattered around, just as my mother did, and carefully write their names on everything, including each pencil.

In a few weeks I will send my little ones on the bus for the very first time, and my heart will do little flips. Now more than ever I need a blessing on these children and the grownups I am entrusting with their care.

A Blessing of the Backpacks is a wonderful way to begin the school year, surrounding the students, teachers, and educational support staff of your congregation with prayer and blessings. I’ve developed the following liturgy over the last few years, and usually use it during the children’s sermon. It could easily be adapted into a litany so that many voices are represented and heard. The school supplies are in bold as a visual cue to hold up the item and let the children call out its name if you wish:

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Blessing our Caregivers

Third Sundays in our congregation are healing Sundays. During communion, two healing ministers position themselves behind the altar rail, anointing oil in hand, to offer healing prayers and blessings to anyone who approaches them.

Some people come forward to ask prayers for themselves – prayers for upcoming surgeries and for broken relationships and for grieving spirits.

Some people come forward to ask prayers for loved ones – prayers for family members in medical crisis or friends in economic distress.

Some people come forward asking for nothing in particular. They just want to hear again the good news that God binds up the broken-hearted and promises healing for us and for all creation.

Healing ministers lay hands on their shoulders, pray, trace the sign of the cross in oil on their foreheads, and remind them, “You are a blessed and beloved child of God, and you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” There is nothing in death or in life that can separate these beloved children from the love of God shown to us in Christ Jesus.

It is a privilege to pray for healing. But as a church we recognize the great privilege it is for so many of our members to be called into the work of healing as their vocation, both inside the church and out in the community.

We have many caregivers in our congregation: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, hospice workers, guidance counselors, and the list goes on. At least once a year, we take the opportunity as a congregation to craft a Sunday morning worship service around themes of healing and caregiving, and to offer a special blessing for all the caregivers in our midst.

We believe that Jesus walks with all who are in need. We believe that Jesus carries us through our times of trouble. In the same way, Jesus empowers those who care for the needs of others and Jesus strengthens us to carry one another through times of trouble. Our experience of healing most often comes through the blessing of human hands and hearts that have been set apart for the work of tending to body and spirit. Caregivers of all kinds do this holy work. Their vocations take them to places of immense joy and profound grief. Their work is vital.

When we bless our caregivers in worship, we recognize and honor their gifts and their work. We involve the entire assembly into the blessing process, whether by using a spoken dialogue, inviting members to raise up a hand in blessing, or inviting the assembly to participate in a laying on of hands. We ask God to bless our caregivers and to give them strength and peace in their vocations. Should you want to include a blessing for caregivers as a part of your community’s worship life, here is a template to help you get started: Read more

Words and Water

water bottleI was first introduced to the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto when I watched a fascinating movie/documentary called What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?.  Dr. Emoto studied the effects that various words and prayers had on water.  He discovered that when thoughts and words were directed at ordinary water, the crystals that would form when the water was frozen changed — positive words resulted in beautifully shaped (healthy-looking) crystals, while negative words resulted in misshapen (sickly looking) crystals.  Considering what he found through his experiments with water, and considering that the average person is made of around 70% water,  Dr. Emoto has suggested that our words and thoughts and intentions and prayers affect us in the same way as those water crystals: our health and our peace is greatly impacted by the words and thoughts that surround us.

Recently, a group of young clergywomen and I reflected on various negative comments that we have endured in our ministries.  The comments ranged from the ridiculous to the undeniably evil – and everything in between.  Accusations of being uncaring and unloving hurt.  There is no way around it.  Rarely does it mater that the person who is saying such things to us or about us is merely projecting their own anxieties about themselves onto us — their words still sting.  Broken promises can cling to us like lint on our favorite black dress.  Selfish demands can weigh us down like that extra bag of groceries that we have to carry up three flights of stairs.  Even the craziest of complaints can keep us up at night, stressing over how to respond to people and situations that they simply didn’t teach us about in seminary.

After sharing numerous stories of the discouraging comments that haunt us as we go about the work of answering God’s call (once again, being reminded in our sharing, that we are not alone), one of the clergywomen asked about the positive comments and experiences that we have enjoyed recently.  Those comments ranged from the simple to the profound – and everything in between.  It is amazing how much of a difference a simple “thank you” can make.  Words of blessing and gratitude can bring much-needed healing on days when all else seems to be falling apart.  Rarely do the people who share such hopeful messages realize how much their words mean — their words can soothe troubled spirits and hearts in ways that can only be understood as gifts from the Holy One.  Sincere compliments can comfort us like a handmade quilt on a cold winter day.  Expressions of genuine gratitude can lift us up like a free-flying kite on a breezy summer day.  Even the smallest of notes or mentions of thanks for what it is that we do or who we are can give us the nudge that we need to push forward, celebrating God’s goodness and taking joy in God’s calling day by day.

After presenting a synopsis of Dr. Emoto’s work in the movie, What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?, one character says this to another: “Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? If thoughts can do that to water, imagine what our thoughts can do to us.”  We have all faced harsh, hurtful words from others – and, if we’re honest, many of us have faced harsh and hurtful words from ourselves, too.  It is easy to focus on the negativity that is thrown at us.  It is tempting to let the criticisms and judgments sink into our souls, contaminating our spirits.  It is no wonder that there is so much sickness and burnout in the church and world today!  But the positive words that we share with one another can cleanse and purify.  If thoughts filled with hate and spite lead us to have heartburn and panic attacks, imagine what effect positive thoughts could have on our health and well-being!

In the Sacrament of Baptism, we pray a Prayer of Thanksgiving — a blessing of love and gratitude — over the water.  What if we spoke those same prayers over one another?  What if we would actively seek to bless the around 70% of ourselves that is made of water?  Would we be transformed?  Whether or not Dr. Emoto is right in his assessment that words and thoughts can affect water, I don’t know.  Whether or not Dr. Emoto is correct in thinking that – because of our water content – we are influenced by the words and thoughts that we read and hear, I don’t know.  And yet, I can’t imagine that it is that far from the truth.  Whenever I let the negative talk play like a broken record in my brain, it is not long before I begin to see and feel the effects: insomnia, sour stomach, elevated blood pressure…  But, when I remember and embrace the positive talk – writing words of affirmation and hope on my heart and mind – I feel those effects, too: increased inner peace, joy, calm, and happiness.  Words of love and gratitude can change everything — and always for the better!

Somehow, we need to remember the words that are spoken over those baptismal waters — especially in those moments when words of hate threaten to overtake us.  We need to keep the words of blessing that we hear from God in our hearts.  We need to recite those blessings of love and gratitude to one another.  We must speak words of grace in our workplaces and homes and places of Sabbath rest.  We should bind the words of affirmation that we hear on our hands and fix them on our foreheads.  We should write words of hope and post them next to our computers and use them as the wallpaper on our cell phones.  If we surround ourselves with messages of love and gratitude, I can only imagine the positive impact that would have on our lives, our ministries, and the world around us!