‘More life into a time without boundaries.’

On reimagining the ancient notion of blessing.

It was as I walked out of the cafe, warm mug in my hand, that she said it: ‘May goodness find you in 2022…’

The phrase struck me as it landed, richer words than the usual ‘have a good one’ or ‘see you tomorrow…’

A coffee shop blessing. Some spell of lovingkindness cast on me as I entered the new year… and it put a spring in my wintery steps.

A blessing is an ancient incantation which can easily become a contemporary cliche. ‘Bless you,’ we say, as someone sneezes — which might derive from the plague days of the middle ages. If someone said ‘God Bless You’ when you sneezed, it would save your life.’ Maybe ‘God Jab You’ would work better today.

A different theory is that a sneeze was your body expelling a demon. Saying ‘Bless You’, after someone sneezed, protected them from harm as the demon made its dash for freedom.

In the biblical poem, the creator blesses all creation so that a blessing becomes, as the scholar Walter Bruegemann puts it, ‘a force of well-being active in the world.’ The modern English word ‘bless’ is linked to ‘benediction’ and a blessing is more than bigging someone up — it’s wishing them a divine grace on their day.

And another of those practices that might need to be untangled from the super-trawler nets of industrial religion.

A blessing is not the preserve of the devout. We can frame our own, casting a generous grace on each others lives.

In his last book, the Irish poet John O’Donohue composed a series of everyday blessings. A Blessing for a Farmer and one for a Nurse. A Blessing for Someone Who Did You Wrong. A Blessing for Old Age.

But we can also reimagine ancient ones. The novelist Jeanette Winterson, in 12 Bytes, a new book on Artificial Intelligence, quotes the literary critic Harold Bloom wondering if the original Hebrew blessing in Genesis — ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ — might better be translated as ‘More life into a time without boundaries.’

This is a Blessing For A Meeting on Zoom.

Walking home, in the halo of my January barista blessing, I recalled a haunting recent folk song, The Lost Words Blessing, (Spell Songs, Julie Fowlis, Karine Polwart, Seckou Keita, Kris Drever, Rachel Newton, Beth Porter, Jim Molyneux, Kerry Andrew).

Inspired by the tradition of Scottish Gaelic incantations found in the Carmina Gaedelica, it’s a luminous prayer of steadiness for our age of uncertainty.’

‘Even as the hour grows bleaker, be the singer and the speaker
And in city and in forest, let the larks become your chorus
And when every hope is gone, let the raven call you home…’

May goodness find you this year… with more life into a time without boundaries.

(An edited version of a script for BBC Thought For The Day on Saturday January 8 2022. )