Advent 3: The Art of Blessing

By Jan Richardson

Image: The Hour of Lauds: Visitation © Jan Richardson

Canticle for Advent 3 (alternate reading): Luke 1.46-55

Two nights ago we gathered for the Wellspring service, the contemplative worship gathering that Gary and I offer each month. On that Advent night, in that quiet and prayer-soaked chapel, our primary text was Luke 1.39-56, in which we find the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and of the song that Mary pours forth when Elizabeth welcomes and blesses her. This song, which we have come to know as the Magnificat, is our canticle for this third Sunday of Advent.

At the service, during our time for conversation (because, at Wellspring, the act of proclamation is not solely the work of one person), we spoke of how Mary’s song—this song of how God turns the world right side up—comes from Elizabeth’s blessing of her: how Elizabeth’s words seem to release the song, set it loose from Mary’s lips and from her very soul. We spoke of the intimacy of this story, how it is in their meeting, kinswoman to kinswoman, that the blessing and the singing take place. We spoke of how blessing takes place in community, how it depends upon community, how it takes being in community to offer and receive the blessings that will enable us to proclaim the song that God has placed within us. We spoke of how sometimes the best way to receive a deeply needed blessing is to offer a blessing ourselves. And we spoke, too, of how there are times when God calls us—challenges us—to simply receive a blessing that is meant for us, without feeling compelled to respond in turn.

This intimate scene, this exchange between these two woman who find themselves in a stunning intersection of heaven and earth, is the stage by which Luke describes how God transforms the world. And it rests, in large measure, upon the act of blessing: one woman laying her hands upon another and speaking words that penetrate whatever anxiety and uncertainty may be present in Mary as she sets out into a wild and uncharted terrain.

Later, after the service, the power of Elizabeth’s blessing, and what it unleashed, lingered with me. I picked up John O’Donohue’s book To Bless the Space Between Us and turned once again to his brilliant essay at the end of the book, “To Retrieve the Lost Art of Blessing.” Here he writes,

We never see the script of our lives; nor do we know what is coming toward us, or why our life takes on this particular shape or sequence. A blessing is different from a greeting, a hug, a salute, or an affirmation; it opens a different door in human encounter. One enters into the forecourt of the soul, the source of intimacy and the compass of destiny.

Our longing for the eternal kindles our imagination to bless. Regardless of how we configure the eternal, the human heart continues to dream of a state of wholeness, a place where everything comes together, where loss will be made good, where blindness will transform into vision, where damage will be made whole, where the clenched question will open in the house of surprise, where the travails of life’s journey will enjoy a homecoming. To invoke a blessing is to call some of that wholeness upon a person now.

This wholeness is intended not just for the one who receives it;  it is linked with the wholeness of the whole world.

“Blessed is she who believed,” Elizabeth the Blesser cried out.

“God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,” Mary the Blessed sings in response, “and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things . . .”

O’Donohue writes this, too:

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.

In this Advent season, how will you use the power you have to bless? How might God be calling you to offer a blessing—or to receive one?

From my soul to yours and back again: blessings.

[For previous reflections on the Magnificat, visit Door 11: In Which We Get to Sing and Door 14: Remembering Forward.]

[To use the image “Visitation,” please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]

2 Responses to “Advent 3: The Art of Blessing”

  1. Emily@theNest Says:

    Dear Jan, On the 8th I read your post from last year on this very subject, and was so moved and so blessed with your emotive description of Mary and Elizabeth. I sang Vivaldis Magnificat years ago with a choir, and, while I didn’t know the story behind it, I always felt that immense power in something holds that much energy. I enjoy your blog so much, and look forward to receiving In The Sanctuary of Women- one for me and one for my mother! Love and light to you in this Advent season X

  2. Elizabeth Nordquist Says:

    I have just spent 17 months, and finally finished a scrapbook of collage and reflection on Elizabeth. What a rich icon for me in my retirement, not too old to birth something new, not too spent to open myself to welcome, not too tired to recognize Blessing when it comes. Thanks once again for your gifts shared. I am so sorry to have missed you in Tahoe, but somehow feel the connection was strong even in being absent form one another. Advent and Christmas blessings on all you are and give this season!

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