Bless This Mess

James O'Brien

When 150 locals approached the altar to receive communion at the Cathedral of St. Paul on May 15, the priest refused them because they were wearing rainbow-colored sashes in support of gay Catholics. On TV that night, a reporter asked one woman what the priest did instead of doing his job as Christ's middleman. "He blessed me," she said, "and I blessed him back."

My first reaction was, So what's the problem? Instead of partaking in an archaic tradition of flesh-eating and blood-drinking that would do any cannibal or vampire proud, two human beings, in a time of great stress, on opposite sides of the God aisle, blessed each other. Now, if you ask me, that's as great a sacrament as they come--and I know of what I blaspheme, for that very morning, I received communion from my mother, who doled out two of the wacky wafers to her grandson and granddaughter for the first time.

I could make a big deal out of that, but here's a bigger news flash: Alert the Catholic Spirit! Homo-lover and priest bless each other! Maybe there is a God after all! If we're not careful, people could start randomly blessing each other, and I for one know how good that feels, because I've been getting laid a lot that way lately.

I'm not talking about court-ordered "bless you"s that follow sneezes or e-mail salutations, or the "namaste" I pay big bucks to receive at the end of yoga class. I'm talking about blessings out of the blue--four of which I can recall at the moment--that I received recently. They humbled me, because even though they were lighthearted and informal, each blesser seemed to sense I could use it, and I felt they were all leading up to something grand, some tangible payoff; some manna from heaven.

The first happened at a seder at the end of March. I was sitting at the head table with some acquaintances and a priest. He's a former St. Paul phone lineman and the current chaplain at Hennepin County Medical Center, so his sermons are always rich with real-world smarts. Brother would have made a great bartender or philosophy professor, but instead he finds himself nurturing a tiny church in the heart of south Minneapolis, talking (not preaching) about love and Jesus and looking out for each other.

Over meatloaf and applesauce this night, we ranted about organized religion and politics. I told him I'd been banned from Breck High School for a column I'd written about class and the American caste system. I told him about the e-grief I'd been getting, and as he got up from the table, he simultaneously laughed and shook his head. Backpedaling and still chuckling, he made the sign of the cross at me several times. It was a fade-away blessing, an afterthought. More "God help you, you poor bastard" than "God bless you, my son."

A few days later, I was hanging out with Susan Anderson-Kimm, a local artist who receives messages from dead people. I sat with her in her studio and she told me about her gift and her paintings, which she calls "blessings." She talked about how the spirit works through her, and about how she senses the pendulum swinging toward a new dawn of spirituality. Perhaps she felt my skepticism, or perhaps she felt that I was in dire need of a dose of one-on-one blessing. In any case, she, too, blessed me. Not with a hand sign, but with a simple, sweet, parting "God bless" that cut through my defenses and wrapped my worried id in soulophane.

Now, it occurs to me that you've got to have some pretty big blessing balls to believe you've got the power to bless someone. Or maybe not. Maybe you just do it the way Greg Burke did it to me a couple of Fridays ago at Lee's Liquor Lounge. He's a big, burly barfly with a Boston accent who's bonkers about music and the Twin Cities scene--so much so that he does the weekly "Club Crawl" segment on Cities 97 as a labor of love.

I don't know him very well, or what his religious trip is, but he pulled up a chair before the Gleam took the stage, and we started talking about writing and music. He was raving. He punctuated his words with the sign of the cross in front of me. Over the din of the crowd and between-band music, he crossed me frantically, enthusiastically, like a silent movie maiden fending off Nosferatu. It was about this time that I started to believe that all these blessings were starting to add up to some future miracle.

I forgot about it until two weekends ago, when my wife and kids and I went up to a resort in northern Minnesota. We'd won a free weekend getaway, and, after a semi-tumultuous spring that included me feeling nuttier than usual and getting kicked out of a Timberwolves game for mouthing off about what I can't remember now, I was looking forward to some quiet. Part of which included a Saturday afternoon massage.

Piano music from a portable CD player and the scent of burning candles filled the room. The masseuse swathed her hands in oil and started on my head with the superhuman fingers of a mother and a lover. She worked on my neck and shoulders, caressed my hands, pulled gently on my fingers, kneaded my chest, arms, thighs, calves, feet.

We talked for the first half-hour. She told me she was married to a pastor. I told her I dig Jesus, and that I think he was man of love, and that I couldn't care less what anyone else has turned him into. She offered nothing in response, but I surmised aloud that her massages surely go out into the world and have an impact on those beyond the recipient.

We got quiet. After 20 minutes of silence, as a coda, she sprinkled my skin with her fingertips. It was crazy sensual, and just as my flesh was rising to its peak, she crossed my back several times and softly said, "May the Lord Jesus Christ look and watch over you; in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."


The next night, I went to Mystic Lake Casino with my mother-in-law. It was Mother's Day, and I had promised her a date to see Kenny G. I had tried to scam a couple of freebies from the record company, but when I got to the box office 20 minutes before show time, there were no tickets for me. So I pulled out my credit card and put $110 worth of Kenny fucking G tickets on it.

Before we went in, I popped a Vicodin to ease the pain. It worked. I was entertained. I was only mildly creeped out by Kenny blowing his horn and raising his come-hither eyebrows at the roomful of mothers-in-law that make up his core demographic. And I was almost able to go numb when Kenny entertained a woman's shouted request to come backstage with the reply, "If you look like Halle Berry, you can!"

After the show, I was still bugged that I had actually paid to see Kenny G., so I parked my mother-in-law at a nickel slot and sat down at a five-dollar blackjack table. I got hot, and decided to stay until I'd won back all my money. Forty-five minutes later, I cashed out for $115, and we were gone. The weirdest part is that, as the other players sweated out each hand and hit, I felt such a sense of inner peace that the only thing I can think of is that it must've been the Vicodin.

Jim Walsh can be reached at 612.372.3775 or [email protected].

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