We often say “bless you” when someone sneezes, but in reality the ancient act of ‘blessing’ involves a whole lot more than just a few throw away words given in response to a bodily function!
If you look up the dictionary meaning of blessing, you will find a number of different definitions. I particularly like this one:
‘Something promoting or contributing to happiness, well- being or prosperity’.
This implies that when people are regularly ‘blessed’ they become happier, healthier and more prosperous.
It is helpful to look at a culture that actively uses 'blessing’. The Jewish people are one such group. Their blessing involves five main elements:
1. Meaningful touch
2. Spoken words
3. Expressing high value
4. Picturing a special future
5. An active commitment
The image we often see when thinking of a Jewish blessing is that of ‘hand on head’. To the Jews it was a powerful image of transference from one person to another and was seen when a father was passing on ‘his blessing’ to his son (as well as in other contexts). Even today physical touch is a powerful communicator of love and blessing (see The Language of Touch for more on this)
In Jewish tradition the blessing is not just written down or mystically 'passed on'. It is specifically SPOKEN. There is no doubt what the blessing is about as it is clearly articulated. Children are blessed weekly at the family ‘Shabbat’ meal and this regular input of words must make a huge impact on the child. Spoken words can inspire, encourage and communicate love and affirmation in a very tangible way. (For more on 'Love Languages' see Speaking the Languages of Love)
Expressing High Value
It is interesting to note that the root of the Hebrew word ‘to bless’ means ‘to bow the knee’. The act of bowing before someone immediately gives a picture of showing honour or giving value. These days we only tend to bow before dignitaries or royalty. In the Jewish culture ‘blessing’ involves attaching a high value to the one being blessed. This is often done through the use of ‘word pictures’.
A ‘word picture’ connects with a character trait, an emotional meaning or points to future potential. E.g. ‘You are going to be as strong as an ox’ or ‘You are like the heather growing on the mountainside. Wild and beautiful’.
I remember my daughter giving me a powerful word picture. She made a drawing of herself lying in bed with a thought bubble which said ‘my mum is like a river to me’. It immediately made me think of all that I associated with a river, like strength, flowing life, beauty, etc. and it made a deep impression on me.
Picturing a Special Future
Children often daydream about their future, but how many receive words that picture a special future for them? Jewish fathers tell their children what they see in them in regards to their future e.g. ‘You will grow to be a strong man, your work will prosper and your children will be blessed’
Obviously care needs to be taken that this picturing of a ‘special future’ is not manipulative in nature. If you want your child to follow in the family business and insist on telling them ‘you WILL take over the business…..’ it be will manipulative and defeat the purpose of true ‘blessing’.
I have used this particular element of ‘the blessing’ with my children, picturing success and calling out of them the things I see that they are naturally good at. They always smile and I can sense the delight and re-assurance it brings them.
An Active Commitment
Doing all of the above is no use without showing an active commitment to the one being ’blessed’. There must be follow through. This will involve time, finances, study and consideration.
You cannot picture a special future as 'a great piano player' without committing to buy some piano lessons, and if you want to accurately asses potential you need to truly 'become a student’ of the one you want to bless. So the final element of the Jewish blessing involves following through with the kind of support that is required to realise success.
I hope you can see that this ancient form of blessing can be brought into our culture today and used as a wonderful tool to bring about that happiness, healthiness and prosperity defined at the start of this blog.
Next time you say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes, let it be a reminder of the value of true blessing and whether it’s your kids, co-workers or employees that you wish to bless, determine to use some of the elements I have outlined here. I guarantee they will be lining up for more!