Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.
My hospital chaplain friend wiped a tear from the corner of her eye as she described standing in one of her cancer patient’s hospital rooms as his nurses prepared him to receive a stem cell transplant through an IV infusion. He held the hand of his wife and my friend asked if the couple would like to receive a blessing — on them, and on the IV bag filled with what was liquid gold as far as this couple of several decades was concerned. They nodded, silently, and my friend raised words of gratitude, hope and promise. As her voice tapered off, the wife of the patient asked to add her own blessing, and she introduced my friend — and eventually me, through her — to what has become one of my favorite prayers: the Shehecheyanu.
Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
The Shehecheyanu is a Jewish blessing that is meant to be recited the first time a person does something each Jewish calendar (for instance, the first night of Hanukkah when you light the menorah), and to mark joyous occasions. But to me, this blessing seems appropriate on pretty much any occasion. It is a joyous blessing, certainly, but it also leaves room for regret, fear and uncertainty. It could as easily be saying, “God, Source of Life, Universe — life hasn’t necessarily been easy, and we’ve encountered our fair share of trouble, but here we are. Thank you for helping us make it to this moment” as “Divine Being, Mother Earth, Heavenly Father — you have given us so many gifts and the event happening today is just one of them.”
I think of the Shehecheyanu right now, during this fraught moment in our country and world’s history. I think of it as we continue to deal with the challenges of our current global pandemic and as we grapple with the racial injustice that has destroyed and plagued the lives of too many black and brown Americans. I think of it as we are still faced with so much uncertainty and concern about the future: physically, economically, and emotionally.
The challenges are many. As Frederick Beuchner says, “terrible things will happen.” But also, here we are, alive and sustained, in this season. May gratitude and glimpses of hope accompany any despair that threatens to overwhelm.
Reflect: How would you describe your current season? Who are the people who sustain you? How can you show your thanks?
Teresa Coda works as a Director of Faith Formation at a Catholic Church, dabbles in interfaith hospital chaplaincy, and writes about life and spirituality. She has a Masters in Divinity from Harvard Divinity School where she studied theology and pastoral care and counseling. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband Caleb, her daughter Esther and her Boston terrier Bean.