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Excerpted from My Grandfather's Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen. Copyright 2000 by Rachel Naomi Remen. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.
 


"Not only are there blessings to be said over food; there are blessings to be said when you wash your hands, when you see the sun rise or set."

Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings, Part 3

I had been very premature. Concerned that he was anxious or even repelled that I was so small and frail, she was about to reassure him when he whispered something under his breath. She had not quite heard and she asked him to repeat it for her. He had turned to her with a smile and said in Hebrew, "Blessed are Thou, O Lord Our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive and sustained us, who has brought us whole to this moment." It is a blessing of gratitude for the gift of life, and it was also the beginning of our relationship.

My grandfather was a man of many blessings. These blessings were prescribed generations ago by the great teaching rabbis, and each is considered to be a moment of mindfulness--an acknowledgement that holiness has been met in the midst of ordinary life. Not only are there blessings to be said over food; there are blessings to be said when you wash your hands, when you see the sun rise or set, when something is lost or when it is found, when something begins or ends. Even the humblest of bodily functions has its own blessing. My grandfather was an Orthodox rabbi and he said them all, tipping his black fedora to the Holy many times each day as he dealt with the smallest details of daily life.

I was the child of two dedicated socialists, who viewed all religion as the "opiate of the masses. " Although such blessings were never said in my own family, saying them with my grandfather felt quite natural to me. At one time I knew many of them by heart, but I have long since forgotten them. What I have remembered is the importance of blessing life.

When I was young, I seemed to be caught between two very different views of life: my grandfather and his sense of the holy nature of the world and my highly academic, research-oriented uncles, aunts, and cousins. All my grandfather's children were doctors and nurses, and many of their children are as well. As I grew older and time created a greater distance between us, my grandfather seemed to become an island of mysticism in a vast sea of science.

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