Commemorating the joy of home

Family: Several faiths practice traditional blessings to `bring the truth of the faith into everyday living.'

October 05, 2001|By Diane Reynolds | Diane Reynolds,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

How does one commemorate the joy - or challenge - associated with moving into a new home? For many, a home blessing brings a sense of the sacred into their living space.

Home blessings are practiced by Jews, Catholics and Lutherans, among others. All these traditions hold in common a belief that God has a central place in the life of the home and the family. Each faith uses a home blessings ceremony to bind members more closely to that faith.

"For a long time in our society, faith has been compartmentalized," says the Rev. William Gies of Trinity Lutheran Church in Ellicott City. "Home blessings are a way to bring the truth of the faith into everyday living."

Gies likens home blessings to "encirclement prayers" that Celts once said before different daily activities, such as lighting the fire.

"It seemed like the Celtic folks surrounded their days with prayer," Gies says. For modern Christians, "your life ought to look the same on Monday morning as it does on Sunday."

In Lutheran home blessings, the pastor walks from room to room, saying a prayer relevant to that particular room. The prayer that Gies uses for the kitchen reads: "O God, you fill the hungry with good things. Send your blessing on us, as we work in this kitchen, and make us ever thankful for our daily bread, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

In like fashion, the blessing for the bedroom asks for peaceful sleep, while the prayer for the bathroom requests physical and spiritual health. A candle is carried from room to room during the blessing. "The candle is very much a symbol of Christ," Gies says.

He promotes home blessings as an outreach tool and within his congregation, which meets at Bon Secours Spiritual Center. "We're a congregation without a building," he says. "One of the difficulties is identity in the community. This is an outreach opportunity."

Because a house blessing is a joyful occasion, Gies suggests combining it with a housewarming. "One of the first ones I did was a housewarming," he says. "We had a chance to chat together."

He says that this helped break the ice for the blessing ceremony.

For Jews, homes are blessed with the mezuza, a container about 5 inches long and 1 inch wide that contains verses from the Torah. The parchment scrolls inside the mezuza carry central beliefs - such as in Shema, or one God, and the need to love and follow God's teaching - into the home.

"The mezuza designates this as a Jewish home, but when we enter the home we are reminded that what goes on in the home and in our family should be dedicated to the teachings of our faith," says Rabbi Mark Panoff of Temple Isaiah in Columbia. "I think most Jewish people will have a mezuza in their home and apartment."

For Catholics, home blessings often coincide with the season of Epiphany, normally celebrated in early January, commemorating the arrival of the three wise men at baby Jesus' first home in a stable in Bethlehem.

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