"Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the Lord." - Psalm 119:1
Although it is not usually the tradition in these parts, we were invited forward to lay hands on the newly installed pastor. My friend, carrying her baby in her arms, walked next to me as we moved up the aisle, squinting into the afternoon sun. In the crowded chancel, I held out my hands and she passed the baby to me. As I sniffed his head and listened with one ear to the spoken prayer, the baby's chubby hand patted my glasses, my nose and the shiny part of my stole, before landing on the arm of my friend, his mama.
Laying on of hands is a blessing, a reminder of the movement of the Holy Spirit, a passing of God's call from one generation to the next. On this installation day, it was also an affirmation of the exhortation spoken a few minutes before - to do good to all, to pray always, and to be thankful in all circumstances. These aspirations are not just for the one at the center of the circle. They are for everyone. They are for me. In any given day I'm pretty sure to neglect my prayers, stew in resentment instead of basking in thankfulness, do badly by someone instead of doing good to everyone.
In those moments, I will have this to bring me back into the presence of God's blessing. This moment of perfect stillness, the sun shining, illuminating this congregation of bent brown and gray heads and also one blameless face, smiling up, up, up.
Glorious and Wonderful One, Except for the baby, we aren't - any of us - blameless. And yet, you confer your blessing upon us anyway. Thank you. Amen.
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.