This is very short article about blessings. In the continental United States one seldom, if ever, hears about public blessings at events, or of things, or of places. And let’s be honest, the ubiquitous ‘God bless America’ delivered at the end of every politician’s speech, is not a blessing, not even a prayer. I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean. In Hawaii public blessings are not just common. They are expected for events, things, and places all the time and everywhere. Theologically speaking they tend toward the animistic or pantheistic, and no one finds that unusual because they are so deeply respectful of the event, thing, or place, and the spirit that they hope will be present in it. They are not, so far as I know, denominational in any sense of the word, but they are not the vapid ‘to whom it may concern’ blather that often passes as an invocation in various places on the mainland.
Most are offered through Hawaiian chants. I imagine you have heard a Hawaiian chant somewhere along the line. You have if you have ever gone to a luau. Chants come in many forms and tell family stories, recall favorite myths, call attention to important events, and implore blessings of many kinds. What especially interests me are the special chants offered before entering certain lands that seek the blessing of the land, and the plants and animals inhabiting it. In a sense it is like calling ahead to let a friend know you are coming over to visit, ringing the doorbell when you arrive, and offering a friendly greeting before entering. It’s just good manners. These blessing chants are intended to prepare one to seek communion with the place and its inhabitants of the place. I like that, and am determined to be more intentional about doing something similar more often in more places.
As Christians, should it matter if that borders on the animistic? Episcopalians deeply rooted in the Anglican tradition, itself rooted in Celtic Christianity that has a high regard for the presence of the holy in all creation. Another way of saying that is that our incarnational theology delights in the presence of God’s Spirit in all things. What we may have to work on is whether all things may have spirits of their own. Does it matter whether it is the spirit of the place, or God’s Spirit that abides in it, or both? The psalmist implored all creatures to clap their hands (98), and to sing out in thanksgiving to God (148). Scripture is not unaware that plants, animals, hills, streams, and all of creation have spirit and reflect God’s Spirit. The spirit of a place exists without knowing or caring about the ways in which philosophers, theologians, and scientists work hard to divide the spiritual from the material. Hawaiian chants honor the spirit of a place by recognizing it and asking its blessing on those who will enter that place.
As I write this I’m a day away from entering the harbor at Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands. Am I going to stand at the rail of the ship offering a Hawaiian chant before going ashore. No! Among other things, it would be presumptuous. That’s for Hawaiians to do, not for me. But they remind me that I can offer, in my own language, recognition of the spirit of the place and of God’s Spirit in it. I can offer a blessing and ask for its blessing as I enter in. Becoming more consistent in doing that will be one of my Lenten disciplines this year.
P.S. Posting this will have to wait for land based Internet. That may take a while.