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Declarative Blessing in the Everyday
  • Community
  • Language
  • Prayer
  • Theology
Sharon Harrington

One evening in college, in a windowless, fluorescent-lit room of the old Biola University library, my professor lectured with his hands locked behind his head. Dr. Barber tended to teach like he was merely telling stories on his back porch. I tested this one class with detailed notes. He clearly wasn’t rambling. The lecture was perfectly structured and matched the textbook material. He simply had a lifetime of awesome stories and wielded them with ease. The lectures were easy to remember, even without notes. 

The topic in Sociolinguistics that day was declarative speech acts. These are the utterances that, in speaking them, allow a speaker to change reality: naming a ship, pronouncing a marriage, beginning a race, graduating a senior class, handing down a jury verdict. Most sentences describe some aspect of reality. Declarative speech acts, spoken by the right person at the right time, create reality. 

Having given several examples of declarative speech acts, Dr. Barber sat up and closed the textbook with a thump. He contemplated the eight or so of us for a moment. “So. We’re Christians. This is real. Let’s talk about blessing and cursing. Are those declarative speech acts?” 

I have never forgotten the discussion that day, nor Dr. Barber’s conviction that being made in the image of God, who spoke reality into existence, is what gives our words authority to change reality for the people around us. He shared stories of God’s miraculous intervention in the village where Dr. Barber had spent a decade as a missionary, of learning how intentionally blessing his children at bedtime had changed their family life. He extended the concept of blessing and cursing to include how we speak to the people around us, children in particular, and that our implicit assumptions about those people matter. While nothing can change their absolute worth as humans made in God’s image and loved by him, we have power to change their experience and the perception of their identity — the limited reality we all live in before eternity. 

Yesterday a teaching colleague mentioned the “generous spirit” that is everywhere at TSCS: the sharing of resources, the collaboration, the encouragement, the flexibility, the care for each other’s lives outside of school. I realized today just how often I am blessed by someone — in the strong, intentional, they-say-words-that-change-reality sense — here on this campus. At the risk of leaving out something important, here are a few (very recent) that float to the surface of my memory: 

  • the student and former student who collaborated on a beautifully drawn and written Christmas card 
  • the colleague who promised to pray for my daughter’s interrupted sleep 
  • the parent who wrote me a thank-you note on the sleeve of a cold lemonade 
  • the administrator who saw me running late and offered to help me carry my bags 

And dozens more I could continue to list. 

I know I’m not the only one who experiences these intentional acts of (specifically word-related) kindness at this school every day. These are quotidian daily interactions, and yet they are not. Every one of them changes my world and changes me. I am deeply moved when the priest blesses our community at the end of Morning Prayers; and I see the members of our community blessing each other and me, specifically and purposefully, every day. 

Grace and peace to all of you reading these words, and may God’s presence continue to transform our words into declarative blessings.