I am doing a pilgrimage in September—El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. It is five hundred miles across the top of Spain. So this means that right now I am doing a lot of walking to get ready.
When I lived in Berkeley and ran instead of walked, I trained with my friend Neal Flanagan. He was Catholic priest and professor at the Graduate Theological Union. He was elderly—sixty-five. Yes—stifle your laughter—the same age as I am now.
When we ran together we always greeted other runners and Neal would turn to me, smile and say, “We’re a friendly bunch!”
I would laugh and nod but secretly wonder, “What does he mean by ‘bunch’? Two is not a bunch. Who else is running with us—Jesus? The Holy Spirit? Maybe he’s including Mary Mother of God because after all he is a Catholic priest.”
So this week when I was doing a ten mile walk I thought about Neal. You know how when you’re thinking a lot about someone it can feel as if they are right there with you? That is how it felt to me—as if Neal was right there—his sixty-five year old self because now he would be ninety-nine and I’m not sure he could walk twelve miles. But maybe!
Anyway, because I had been pondering the “bunch” question and whether or not Neal included Jesus, I started thinking about Jesus. I know he could walk twelve miles because I’m sure he did this regularly with the disciples. I thought about Jesus walking not in orthotically enhanced running shoes but funky leather sandals. And because I was thinking so much about him suddenly it felt like Jesus was walking with me too. Weird, right? But also great.
If Jesus was walking with me then for sure he would smile and greet people—the runners, the dog walkers, the cyclists. I imagined walking toward Jesus and him smiling and saying, “Good Morning, Debra~!” Wow! To be greeted by Jesus felt like more than just a greeting—it felt like a blessing.
That’s when I decided that sincerely greeting people really is blessing them. “Good morning!” is saying, I see you and wish all things good for you. Imagine someone coming up to you and saying with a smile, “I see you and wish all things good for you.” Wouldn’t it feel like a blessing and not just a tossed off salutation?
From that moment on I concentrated on blessing people. I realized that I had to really mean it. So I couldn’t just mumble or say it under my breath. I had to sing out, “Good morning!” or “Hi there!” I decided that I had to make eye contact or at least look at their eyes even if they didn’t look at me. In fact, it’s better if those Spandex grasshoppers cycling at warp speed just keep their eyes on the road.
It was also important to smile. I had to smile before I blessed them because even if they didn’t look at me they could hear the smile in my voice. I did this for three hours. Yes, I did! And you know what? It was the Best Walk EVER. It wasn’t great because everyone smiled and blessed me back. In fact sometimes they looked shocked or puzzled. I could see them wondering, “Do I know her?”
Much of the time I got no response but it was still great! Why? Because in blessing others, I, myself was blessed as Spirit moved through me. (Apparently however Spirit did not move through my hip joints which is why I later blessed myself with Advil.)
We don’t have to be ordained or have a theological degree to do this. Everyone can bless one another. I know, I know, what if we’re shy, introverted and greeting strangers feels like eating glass? We do not get a pass. Just think about blessing others. Do not reject this idea outright. As the Persian poet Rumi says, “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
So then we find own way to bless others, our own personal way of saying, I see you and wish all things good for you.
Because we’re a friendly bunch.