Recently I was invited by a young couple to bless their new home.
This custom, blessing houses, is not exactly fashionable today, both because we move so often that we rarely see our houses as something worth blessing and because blessings in general are often considered as something overly pious, a near-superstition left over from a former religious time.
Former generations used to have their houses blessed as a form of protection. A blessing, it was then believed, helped ward off the devil, lightning storms, prowlers and every other kind of evil.
Today we tend to get other kinds of insurances against these things. So why bless our houses?
That question was on my mind as I set out, complete with a ritual book of blessings in hand, to bless my friends’ house.
But there was something else on my mind too, something that invariably appears in my mind whenever I am asked to bless a house, namely, the house that l grew up in. From the way that house has blessed me through the years, I have some dim sense of what kind of blessing a house can give us, if we, first of all, bless it.
I grew up in an immigrant farming community. We were a large family and lived in a small two-storey farmhouse. Soon after marrying and setting out on their own, my parents had bought an old shack-type farmhouse and then, as finances allowed, twice enlarged and remodelled that house until it took the shape that it had when I was a young child.
It wasn’t a luxurious house by any stretch of the imagination. It had no indoor plumbing, bad central heating and barely enough space for so large a family. But it was snug, real snug, and as a child, surrounded always by so many family members, I always felt secure in that house.
It was indeed a home, our place, my place, a place where I was away from the world. Perhaps that phrase best captures the feelings of that house, of any real home—it’s a place where you’re away from the world. It’s your place—to be comfortable in, to be sick in, to fight with your family in, to cry in, to dream both night and daydreams in, to be snug in. That’s what it means to be at home and the house I grew up in gave me that security.
I remember especially the feelings I sometimes had on certain winter days, when it was too cold and stormy for the school bus to operate and we would stay home from school.
Few of my memories are as warm and precious as those. The cold wind raging outside, all of the elements so fierce and hostile, and me inside, secure and surrounded by family, warm and snug, smelling the wood stove and my mother’s cooking as I lounged on my bed or pushed my face against a frosted window to stare at the blizzard.
What was happening outside, the cold, snow and wind, highlighted the warmth and safety of that house, I was as warm and safe as a baby inside the womb . . . and, on those stormy days, almost as peaceful and secure.
Curious thing. Our family still owns that house—which has now undergone a third remodelling—and through my adult years there have been many times when I have left my present home and place of work and set out for that house, full of tension, dissipation, insecurity, and every kind of restlessness, and soon after arriving there found myself slowly, imperceptibly, growing steady and calm.
It’s nearly infallible, when I walk into that house, I grow steadier, gain calm, become more sure of who I am. Such is its magic. A good house can do that for you.
And it is for this reason that we should bless our houses and it is for this kind of grace we should ask when we do bless them.
When I blessed my friends’ house, I didn’t ask, first of all, that this blessing ward off the devil, lightning storms, natural catastrophes and prowlers.
It’s not that these aren’t real or important or that I believe our age to be above praying for help of this kind. No, it is just that these things are secondary to what really needs to be asked for when one blesses a house.
What do you ask for when you bless a house? I asked that God make this house for them, precisely, a shelter from storms, a place of calm, of peace, of steadiness, a place within which they and their children can comfortably rest, eat, sleep, fight, get sick and enjoy themselves in when a blizzard keeps them home.
I asked too that it be a place where they could smell warmth . . . like people used to smell the wood burning in their kitchen stoves. I asked that it be, for them, a home, a safe place, warm and snug, safe as a mother’s womb.