Every month our missional community sets aside one night to celebrate the birthdays of anyone born in that month. We alter our normal rhythm slightly to extend the meal time and include birthday cake and other special desserts. The highlight of the celebration is our predictable pattern of speaking blessings over those whom we’re celebrating with that month.
Words have power. With words spoken out of great love, God created the universe and gave life to those who would reflect God’s image to the rest of creation. Words bring life and love, yet can also do great damage. Far too often we tend towards carelessness with our words and many of us carry wounds as a result. For many, sadness can lurk just below the veneer of a smile and polite conversation. But words spoken in love can penetrate that veneer to bring healing and become a balm for the barbs we walk around with every day. And so every month we speak words of blessing and celebrate the birth of certain members of our family.
This week we celebrated the birth of a father and his two sons, a mother about to watch her eldest graduate high school and my oldest daughter, Haeli. It was in many ways just a simple night together, but in the end it became one of the most sacred moments in recent memory. As one member of our MC put it, it was a night to remember — full of the kind of love that unites us with the bonds of covenant family.
Here’s how we do it:
After dinner and birthday cake, we gather everyone into the largest room available. If I’m leading that night, I’ll give a short reminder of why we speak birthday blessings over each other. This usually includes a reminder of how powerful words can be. I remind us that we are created in the image of a loving and good God who loves us and is pleased with us and has adopted us into a covenant family. I usually reference the new testament word, eulogeo, which is translated as ‘blessing’ and carries a definition, “to celebrate with praises” and “to invoke blessings”. I encourage everyone to look for the ways they see the image of God reflected in each other and speak it out as a blessing over whoever we’re celebrating with that month.
I typically start things off and model these spoken blessings for others (especially early in the life of a missional community). I may notice how someone displays the fruit of the spirit and speak it out loud and pray God brings even more fruit in the coming year. I may notice how loving someone is and praise the way they reflect the image of our loving creator. I may notice the amount of joy that a young boy brings to our spiritual family and speak it out loud asking God for more of the same. I try to model speaking identity and truth by noticing very specific ways each person is an image bearer of God.
It can require some patience at first as people are not used to speaking like this to each other. Eventually people will catch on and be spurred on by the power of an extended family speaking words of love and truth to each other. It’s important to lead with care and not be anxious about whether everyone “gets it” right away. It will eventually become a significant way of connecting UP with God in community. I often reference the moment after Jesus is baptized and hears the Father speak identity and unconditional love over His son. We all need to hear such words.
This practice can be quite emotional, especially for parents listening to other members of the community speak blessings over their children. This time around, I was the parent and my heart nearly burst as many people spoke out loud the ways in which Haeli displays the image of God. As a parent, our words often stand alone. So, there is something very special and powerful about joining a chorus of voices to speak a loving blessing over our own children.
Often I’ll close with a general prayer of blessing or perhaps share a verse from scripture.
This is just the sort of practice that can help move a group of people toward actually becoming family. It moves us beyond mere words, to the sort of Incarnational love modeled by Jesus. How are you connecting to God (UP) as a spiritual family (IN) in both word and flesh?