Commemorating a joy of home

Family: Several faiths practice the traditional blessings to note the importance of the faith in their everyday lives.

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. "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," he 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 room. The prayer that Gies uses for the kitchen is: "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."

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 in Marriottsville. "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 home 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."

In the Jewish ceremony, a rabbi or a family member places the mezuza on the right doorpost and then says a prayer. One prayer asks that the home be a "dwelling place of Jewish spirits ... [that] our tables are altars of faith and love and our doors have been opened to the stranger and the needy. May the home we consecrate keep alive the beauty of our heritage."

In another home blessing ritual, Jews say a blessing over challah - braided bread - and drink wine for sweetness, Panoff says.

"When we do these rituals, we are reminded that the home is something grander than bricks and mortar ... it is a symbol of our Jewish faith," the rabbi says. "A home is a symbol of all that is important to us as a spiritual people."

For Roman 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.

The Rev. Martin Kibosh of the Franciscan Provincial House says Franciscans have done home blessings for many years, although he believes they are more common in the Polish Catholic community. While a priest can do a blessing, the Franciscans supply a kit for the head of the household to use.

Some people live in a home that may seem uncomfortable.

"Lutherans are not big on exorcisms," says Gies, but "once or twice, people, either through their dreams or a sixth sense, have wanted a home blessing."

Gies will perform the ceremony under these circumstances, to make a new place for Christ in the home. "Almost without exception, people are appreciative of the service," he says. "It seems like a good way to make a beginning in a new place."

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