Good Words

A couple of weeks ago, Matt Nault, one of the pastors at my church, spoke about my favorite blessing in scripture. It’s found in the book of Numbers (Chapter 6), when Aaron is instructed to sing these words over the Israelites every time they close their worship service. It’s called a Benediction.

It means “Good Words.” That’s the same thing my man, St. Benedict’s name means. And I’ll admit, that’s one of the reasons I’m most drawn to Benedict. I love the idea of being named, “Good Words,” as if my life could somehow become that name. In fact, I think sometimes that I would like “Good Words” written on my tombstone. In encapsulates so much of what I hope for my life.

I know the passage from Numbers by heart. I know it because my mother used to speak it to me. And I know it because I whisper it to my son at night as I make the sign of the cross on his forehead. For me, it’s a physical claim on his life, a promise that he belongs to God, that he is loved and pursued by a power both he and I will never understand but (I pray) will spend our lives seeking.

The Lord bless you and keep you.

The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.

The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

Once my mom said to me that she gets annoyed when people only say the first line and leave out the best parts (and she says she doesn’t get poetry!). The promise of the benediction is in the repetition of God’s face. As my pastor said, it’s the personal encounter. We don’t know someone in a genuine way and only ever see their back. We watch their lips mouth their words. We smile when they smile. We lock eyes.

And those words: To be kept, to be given grace, to be offered peace. Aren’t we all longing for someone who loves us in such a way that we are offered those tender blessings? I’m quoting Rev. Nault again here when I say we can’t bless ourselves, at least not in the ancient tradition of the father passing on the “blessing” to his firstborn son. It can only be given. It’s never something that we can accomplish for ourselves just by working hard.

I’ve been thinking about that longing in us to be blessed, to be named. I’m one of those girls who really ached over changing my name to my husband’s. I hated it. I cried over it. (Then why did you do it, Ms. Complainy?) Well, I think for me it came down to this image I had of becoming so enjoined with him that I confused myself with him. This idea that he and I could call ourselves by the other. That, somehow in receiving Christopher’s blessing, I couldn’t help but take a new name, like Saul became Paul or Abram became Abraham.

We’re trying to come up with a name for our little in utero baby. Naming is so difficult! I feel such a sense of anxiety over what to call him. A name has a claim on us that can’t be undone. In so many ways, a name is who we are. After God gives Aaron the blessing, he says this: “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them” (verse 27).

What is it to be so tangled up in the one who gives the blessing that that my name becomes his, so that the one who keeps and gives grace and offers peace is the one whose name I own? Is that what it means to receive Good Words?

And does that mean that I start to speak them and live into them in such a way that I get to hear them said over me? I can’t bless myself. But I’m hoping the blessing means getting tangled up with the Blesser…

These are rambling thoughts, but my pastor said it better here.

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