“A Blessing for Back to School” by Sarah Bessey

Hsu Tung Han_The Trend of Autumn
Han Hsu-Tung (韓旭東) (Taiwanese, 1962–), The Trend of Autumn (秋天の潮), 2013. Walnut wood, 155 × 98 × 50 cm. [artist’s website]
As we head back into our classrooms, may you go forth fully convinced of our love and your capacity. May you be the head and not the tail, leading others—and yourself—on a path of flourishing. 

May your roots go down deep into God’s soil so you will bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

May you remember your people, where you come from, and find your place of belonging. 

May you become even more fully who you were always meant to be this year. We delight in you, darling.

We pray that you would sow seeds of life and hope wherever you find yourself, cultivating a harvest of shalom.

May you be prepared for every good work that lies ahead of you. 

May your mind be clear and engaged, your memory sharp, your wisdom beyond your years. May you ask for what you need without fear or shame.

May you be safe, beloved child, protected from anything that seeks to steal, kill, or destroy in any measure. When you are afraid, may you feel our love wrapped around you and take heart.

When disappointments or disasters come—and they will—may you find the depths of the resilience we already see in you and rise, rise, rise again. 

May you do what is right and good and kind and just, no matter what everyone else might do. Don’t submerge your true self into the dreams, plans, behaviors, or agendas of others. Bring your full beloved self to these days, knowing you are created in the image of God.

We pray that you would be a blessing to your teachers and the school staff, and we pray that they, in turn, would see and affirm you in the fullness God has created. 

We pray for good friendships that will sharpen and delight you. 

We pray you would have eyes to see the lonely ones. May you have many opportunities to practice being both brave and kind. 

Beloved child of God, we send you out in the power and peace of Love itself, prepared and anointed, knowing you walk upon steady ground.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, one God and Mother of us all.

Amen.

This adaptable parental benediction for a child’s return to school is from the August 8, 2022, edition of Sarah Bessey’s Field Notes and is reproduced here with Bessey’s permission.

An Epiphany Blessing

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
    and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
    and his glory will appear over you.

—Isaiah 60:1–2

LOOK: Comet by Antonello Silverini

Silverini, Antonello_Comet
Comet, a digital collage by Antonello Silverini (Italian, 1966–). Used with permission.

LISTEN: “May It Be” | Words by Roma Ryan, 2001 | Music by Enya, 2001 | Performed by Voces8, 2018

May it be an evening star
Shines down upon you
May it be when darkness falls
Your heart will be true
You walk a lonely road
Oh, how far you are from home

Mornië utúlië
Believe and you will find your way
Mornië alantië
A promise lives within you now

May it be the shadow’s call
Will fly away
May it be you journey on
To light the day
When the night is overcome
You may rise to find the sun

Mornië utúlië
Believe and you will find your way
Mornië alantië
A promise lives within you now
A promise lives within you now

At the behest of composer Howard Shore, film director Peter Jackson approached Enya to write a song for his 2001 epic fantasy adventure The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the first in a trilogy. Enya brought her lyricist Roma Ryan on board, and together they wrote “May It Be.” The song, which plays during the movie’s end credits, contains two lines in the fictional Elvish language Quenya that J. R. R. Tolkien invented: “Mornië utúlië” and “Mornië alantië,” which translate to “Darkness has come” and “Darkness has fallen.”

The original recording by Enya, the London Voices, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra is gorgeous, but I’m partial to the 2018 rendition by the British vocal ensemble Voces8, arranged by Matthew Sheeran. It’s absolutely stunning. I must have listened to it at least a hundred times!

Why am I sharing this “secular” song (inspired by a tale of hobbits, elves, and wizards) on today’s feast of Epiphany, the grand finale of the Christmas season? I could have chosen one of the church’s many beautiful works of music written explicitly for this day (and I have in previous years, such as here, here, and here, not to mention yesterday’s festive feature)—perhaps something louder, brighter, more triumphant—but instead I wanted to cap off the Twelve Days of Christmas with a benediction. It’s from an unlikely source, sure, but it speaks well, I think, to where we’re at in the liturgical year.

According to Christianity, darkness entered the world with humanity’s rebellion against their Creator in the garden of Eden. Sin and death became a reality that, millennia later, we still grapple with. But a promise was spoken in the beginning, was born in a manger at Christmas, walked the dusty streets of Israel-Palestine teaching the Way and performing wonders, was nailed to a cross and buried but then rose from the grave and now lives in the hearts of millions. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s promise of salvation and holistic restoration—shalom, the world set right again.

The light of Christ shone on the small Jewish town of Bethlehem at the Nativity and on the wider Gentile world at Epiphany (when the magi traveled from afar to receive personal revelation, an experience they brought back with them to their homelands), and it continues to shine, often in unexpected places.

Advent is a journey through the dark into the light that breaks at Christmas/Epiphany. Although in one sense morning has broken, in another sense this earth is still very much in darkness. Even the “children of light” (1 Thess. 5:5), those who have been reborn in Christ, experience (and sometimes, sadly, inflict) ache and horror as much as anyone else.

But hope has come. The Word has been spoken, redemption won, even if it’s not yet been consummated. We walk in the valley of shadows, but eventually the night will be vanquished, as Enya’s song says, and we will rise and greet the sun—or, to put a Christian inflection on it, the Son!

May we walk forward into 2022 true to our calling as sons and daughters of God. May we welcome God’s light and bear it to others, and trust the Promise that indwells us.

This is the final post in the 2021–22 Advent/Christmas series. Thanks for following! You can find a collation here (Advent) and here (Christmas). I will now return to my regular publication schedule of roughly one post a week.