We humans, regardless of our theology or beliefs, need sacred space and sacred times. Times and places where we can renew. I love the way Judaism finds the sacred within the profane. Jewish tradition has myriads of blessings of one or a few sentences to be said throughout the day. Like mini-meditations, they allow us to pay attention, to be fully present in a moment and at the same time see far beyond that moment. The spiritual is nested in the concrete, physical life. One of my favorites is the blessing for going to the bathroom. That blessing reminds us that the human body is miraculously intricate: “tubes and more tubes, ducts and more ducts” and if any tube that is supposed to be open gets blocked, or any duct that is supposed to stay closed gets open, we could not even stand up. My body, your body, is a miracle of coordination. Take a breath, slow down, remember this miracle, and you are in a sacred space.
Blessings remind us of our human obligations. A blessing for getting dressed in the morning says that God clothes the naked. On one level, I am grateful to have clothes. On a different level, I’m aware that many people don’t have clothes, and I have to be God’s hands to bring them some. It’s my obligation this day or this week to get clothes to people who need them. And on still another level, I am grateful that as I grow older, I’m no longer as vulnerable, self-conscious, naked as I felt when I was younger. All this in one breath, one blessing.
A one-sentence blessing can remind us of the connectedness of all life and all time. The motzi, the blessing over bread, thanks God for bringing forth bread from the earth. Is this literally true? Of course not. Instead, humans gradually learned over centuries and millenia that those hard little grains, if milled and soaked and fermented, could provide edible food. They learned to plant the grains. If they were lucky, there would be rains and they could harvest and winnow the grains. It’s worth taking an extra second to acknowledge the miracle of this chain of human learning, of our ability to find sustenance in the natural world. And while I’m being grateful to be the recipient of all those miracles, perhaps I can even be grateful, not only for the farmer and the baker, but for the driver who brought the loaves I am eating to the supermarket. If I take another breath, I can even ponder the rest of the miracle: that my body knows how to make use of this bread.