My friend Ben Palpant recently published a book called Letters from the Mountain. It’s a collection of letters about writing and creativity that he wrote to his daughter Kialynn, also a writer.
The last letter of the collection is about benediction. Ben wrote it a few hours after his grandmother died. In her final days and hours, the old woman had listened over and over again to a recording of hymns sung by Kialynn and her schoolmates. “I don’t presume to know all the results of that artistic endeavor,” writes Ben, “but I do know one. It escorted a dear saint from this life to the next one. Your voices and your songs sent her on her way. Your labor of love became a kind of benediction to her.”
I’ve been pondering that story in my heart. I don’t know what those schoolchildren thought would come of their singing, but I can’t imagine they knew they were singing the soundtrack for a dear saint’s departure. They can’t possibly have known they were doing something so important.
We spend a lot of time thinking about the outcomes of our work. I suppose I should use “I” statements: I spend a lot of time thinking about the outcomes of my work. But we can’t control outcomes or predict outcomes. We can only tend to our business—today, then tomorrow, then tomorrow after that. “Take no thought of the harvest,” wrote T.S. Eliot, “But only of proper sowing.”
As Ben Palpant wrote to his writer-daughter,
All your months of work, hours of painful prayer, thankless service, and late-night labor may bless someone in ways you cannot predict. Your writing may escort them on a journey you will never know.
A benediction is literally a “good word.” Our calling is to speak good words, true words. What will come of them? God only knows.