Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: Blessings

Some of life's greatest blessings come unexpectedly, and sometimes from incidental and brief encounters with people we never see again.  Sometimes a blessing is not recognized until much later, and sometimes we end up being blessed by an experience which at the time seemed to be anything but a blessing. Do not be surprised when blessings come from strange and unexpected sources, and even from painful experiences.

This must have been what Shakespeare had in mind when in "As You Like It" he wrote, "Sweet are the uses of adversity, which like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head; and this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stone, and good in everything".

A series of "subsequent blessings" started for me a few years ago while I was giving a series of sermons and lectures in the Episcopal Diocese of Orlando, Florida. After my last sermon, a lady who had been present each time I spoke handed me a book she had taken from her own bookshelf. She said, "This is a special gift for you". I looked to see if the book was leather-bound, or by some famous author. It was neither of these. It was a "dog-eared" paperback by someone whose name I did not recognize. It was several days later before I began to understand the book to be the beginning of a series of unexpected blessings. The dog-eared book was written by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen and titled, "Kitchen Table Wisdom". As I read the book, I was so taken with it that I ordered the companion volume, "My Grandfather's Blessings". I have read and reread these books and reveled in their profound and simple wisdom. Wanting to share the blessings bestowed upon me by these wonderful books, I have given copies to a number of friends and counseling clients.  

Dr. Remen has suggested that most of us have been offered more blessings than we have received. Our lives tend to be filled with so many lesser things that we have no room for the blessings. One of her patients once told Dr. Remen that she had "an image of us all being circled by our blessings, sometimes for years, like airplanes in a holding pattern at an airport, stacked with no place to land, waiting for a moment of our time and attention." Dr. Remen has also pointed out how people with serious and life-threatening illnesses often turn loose a great deal of trivia, creating an opening in their lives for those waiting blessings to land.

We are empowered to bless others when we have been blessed. Often we do not recognize a blessing, or we may have ideas that prevent us from experiencing it. There are many ways to feel empty even when blessings abound. Sometimes when we come to the end of our rope, having exhausted all the tools we customarily use to deal with our problems, we come to see that there are better tools than anger, guilt, shame and judgment to get our lives in manageable units. When we are able to get beyond those unproductive tools of relating, we can usually see that the anger, guilt, shame and judgment others may direct at us are often not what it seems to be about, it is about something else. Not infrequently the problem comes from another time and place, from an old wound that never healed; an old, unresolved and perhaps forgotten hurt that keeps looking for resolution, often in people who had nothing to do with the original wound. Hopefully we can eventually learn that the abundant life is more to be found in the celebration of life than in desperate efforts to "fix" it.

That dog-eared, marked-up paperback was "a special gift", and the beginning of a series of blessings that has never stopped giving. It has made me more sensitive to and accepting of proffered blessings from strangers as well as friends. Every now and then I encounter a clerk, waitress or complete stranger living life out loud, who say to me in passing, "Have a blessed day", and because they cared enough to remind me, I usually do have a blessed day.