I didn’t want Mexican, Chinese, Greek or Italian. I was on a lunch break at a five day conference in Columbus, Ohio. They have a very cute, compact market that is similar to Pike Place Market in Seattle but about one-fourth of the size. No flying fish, water view or bronze pig, but still very cool.
So I stopped at this Somali place and there was this guy wearing a long robe and a kufi hat shouting, “What do you want? It’s free, it’s free!” My heart is pounding because men who shout scare me.
I thought, “Oh, geez, so many people, so much noise and everyone knows, there is no free lunch.” But that Somali food looked so good, so I got in line.
I ordered my “bowl:” rice and salad on the bottom, special Safari chicken on top, then cooked cabbage and cooked spinach and cucumbers and tomatoes and two little containers of garlic sauce. And then it was my turn to pay and the man shouted, “I’m paying for your drink! Get what you want!” But all they had were sugared drinks and bottled water and I won’t buy water in a plastic bottle.
I said, “No, thank you, I need nothing to drink.” (Yes, I used the rather strange sentence construction.) The whole time this super cheerful smiley, young woman is serving me. She is a Ray of Light.
“Well, I will buy your whole lunch!” he says.
“No, wait, it’s okay!” I am flustered and don’t understand.
He shook his head and said, “Accept the blessing!”
So then I grabbed his sleeve and said, “Thank you, sir. I feel blessed!”
“Now I must go!”! He strode away with a big smile.
Of course it was just the best lunch ever. I was all by myself, sat outside, didn’t read or listen to anything, enjoyed the flavors and let the blessing soak into me. Then it was time to return to the meeting but I was so curious about this guy. So I went back to the counter. The Ray of Light was still there and I asked her about him.
She told me that earlier he came up, gave her a $100 bill and said he was buying all the lunches until the money ran out. It was his way of giving back after Ramadan. And my lunch was the last fifteen dollars.
Then she explained to me that during Ramadan, Muslims focus on spiritual growth, self-discipline, and generosity towards others. Giving back and blessing others during Ramadan is considered an important act of worship.
I love this idea because often the Hebrew Scriptures imply that a blessing is about a powerful person bestowing a blessing on someone else. So people are always hoping for a blessing from God the Almighty, or from their father. Or we often think of a blessing as something that was given to us that we didn’t even ask for like thick hair, straight teeth, a gorgeous voice.
But I like to think of blessing as more than just the luck of the draw or “I wish all good things for you and I approve of you.” Verbal blessings are easy to give. But an Action Blessing is different. This is what the Muslim man gave to me. Action Blessing is how Jesus operated.
In Mark 10:13 we see Jesus rebuking the disciples for turning away the little children. ”Bring ‘em on!” he says.
Doesn’t it kill you that the drawings always show these kids immaculately clean with proper sandals and brushed hair? Please. My research tells me that parents in Biblical times often put wood shavings and moss in the undergarments of their babies. But do you see pictures of Jesus wrinkling his nose? No, you do not.
ANYway, the kids came, and Jesus didn’t have them stand six feet away and then he pronounces, “I bless you.” No! He took them in his arms and lets them to crawl all over him. Now that’s what I call an Action Blessing. Like this Tweet from Australian TV producer Robert McKnight:
“Was on the train this morning when I found out that my dad passed away overnight. Lady sitting opposite overheard and offered to get off the train with me and go back to the station where her car was parked and drive me home. Strangers can be very kind.”
When we bless one another like this, it fosters a deep sense of connection and empathy. It reminds us of our shared humanity, a way of saying, “Hey, we’re in this crazy/beautiful world together.” It gives us joy and satisfaction so it was no wonder that Muslim guy walked away with a big smile. The beauty of blessing others is that it creates a ripple effect. I know that suddenly I was alert looking for opportunities to pass it on. (The best I could do was to open one of those hideous plastic bottles of water for another conference participant.)
And you know what else? Blessing one another gives us power. Yes, I know that can be a dirty word, but we when realize that we have the power to shape the world around us, to make the world a little brighter, well, that’s a blessing in itself.
Give a blessing and get a blessing. What a deal.