While we were doing this, I noticed my husband get up and go over to my father, leaning down to say something in his ear. They had long loved each other. Years earlier, they had gone on a canoe ride meticulously planned, outfitted, directed, and concluded on schedule by my sometimes maddeningly compulsive father. Everything had gone according to plan—my father's plan—throughout which Ed had been uncharacteristically compliant. Then right at the end, when they were almost safe on dry land, Ed tipped the canoe as he got out of it and dumped my father in the river.

"I hope that was an accident," Ed said when my father surfaced, his Cabela's outfit soaked through with the same green water he was spewing out of his mouth. That my father had laughed at this memory was a testament to his love for my husband, who in the present was kneeling down on the linoleum floor by my father's bed to fit his head underneath my father's bony hand. As I watched, Ed reached up and put one of his big hands on top of my father's hand to make sure it did not slip off. Then he held still while my father's lips moved. After he stood up, he leaned over to say something else in my father's ear.

"What was that?" I asked when he came back to slump beside me again.

"I asked him to bless me," Ed said. "I asked him to give me his blessing."

This kind of blessing prayer is called a benediction. It comes at the end of something, to send people on their way. All I am saying is that anyone can do this. Anyone can ask and anyone can bless, whether anyone has authorized you to do it or not. All I am saying is that the world needs you to do this, because there is a real shortage of people willing to kneel wherever they are and recognize the holiness holding its sometimes bony, often tender, always life-giving hand above their heads. That we are able to bless one another at all is evidence that we have been blessed, whether we can remember when or not. That we are willing to bless one another is miracle enough to stagger the very stars.

Barbara Brown Taylor teaches religion at Piedmont College in rural Northeast Georgia and is an adjunct professor of spirituality at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur. She is the author of twelve books, including the New York Times best-seller An Altar in the World (HarperOne). Her first memoir, Leaving Church, met with widespread critical acclaim, winning a 2006 Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association. A contributing editor to Sojourners, an at-large editor for The Christian Century and sometime-commentator on Georgia Public Radio, she lives on a working farm with her husband Ed and a yard full of animals.
Reprinted from An Altar in the World by permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.


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