For a few minutes, Fort Worth residents and community leaders fell silent underneath a billowing tent right outside of a former Ku Klux Klan auditorium in Fort Worth.
More than 100 people gathered for a 15-minute blessing ceremony, as the building is soon to become The Fred Rouse Center for Arts and Community Healing, a reparative justice project by Transform 1012 N. Main Street.
The sounds of large fans, whirring in competition against the sweltering heat, filled the silence. Protestant, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Buddhist, Jewish and Islamic religious leaders circled together to pray for the building. Native American spiritual and cultural leaders also performed a Blessing Song.
When tragedy or harm strikes Fort Worth, the community calls to its religious leaders for emotional and spiritual guidance. In addition to the Transform 1012 N. Main Street blessing ceremony, Tarrant County residents asked for blessings and prayers during a memorial service for Atatiana Carr-Jefferson, at a healing vigil for a Colleyville synagogue, where hostages were taken, and blessing ceremonies for replaced Virgin Mary statue at a Northside Catholic church.
Blessings are a way that communities come together for a cause, said Jan Quesada, a senior instructor for Texas Christian University’s religion department.
“Blessings are these kinds of pauses to acknowledge and speak words into moments that hold significance,” Quesada said.
Blessing or prayer, what’s the difference?
The terms “blessing” and “prayer” may be used interchangeably or distinctively, depending on whom you ask, Quesada said. Generally, a blessing is a subset of prayer. The reason for a blessing and how they are performed varies across religions.
“You can get pretty technical about all the different modes of prayer across different traditions,” Quesada said. “There’s a whole menu of blessings.”
Someone who practices Hinduism might make a ritualistic offering to Lord Ganesha or another deity honored in the religion. The elephant-headed deity is the remover of obstacles according to ReligionLink. A blessing is sometimes received in answer to the offering or prayer, according to the Center for Religious Studies at Gettysburg College.
In Buddhism, a non-theistic religion founded by Siddhartha Gautama, many prayers are centered on shedding the ego in a search for enlightenment, which would be considered the greatest of blessings, according to Anam Thubten Rinpoche, founder of the Dharmata Foundation.
Blessings and prayers as utilized in reaching out to a deity are intertwined in many religions, but in some more directly than in others.
The Rev. John Luft from the Independent Catholic Community of Saint Anne said in the Catholic faith, prayers and blessings are distinct.
“A prayer is our communication with the divine in petitioning our intentions, we would say, a blessing is either going to invoke or to sanctify something, which can still take the form of a prayer,” Luft said.
Cantor Sheri Allen said in Judaism, it’s a tradition to say 100 blessings a day.
“It’s (blessings) to be able to appreciate, think and ask God for what we have and what we need,” Allen said. “Beginning in the morning before you even open your eyes, there’s a blessing you say when you first awake, thanking God for restoring your soul to yourself.”
Allen and Luft were two of the 12 local spiritual and cultural leaders who attended Transform 1012’s blessing ceremony — initially scheduled to be longer than 15 minutes but cut short by weather.
“We were going to offer a song (Holy Place) because the song is a prayer to me too. That’s what I do. I’m a cantor,” Allen said. “I’m so sad we didn’t get a chance to. But I think song is a form of blessing and prayer as well.”
Abbot Geshe Yeshi Choedup is from the Jangchub Choeling Buddhist Dharma Center in Fort Worth. Choedup, who is from Tibet, said it’s important for him as an Abbot to pray for peace and prosperity during blessing ceremonies.
“I prayed for all the evil spirits to leave the building and for peace,” Choedup said.
‘We are a part of something much bigger than ourselves’
The Rev. Tim Thompson gathered with parishioners outside All Saints Catholic Church to bless their new statue of Virgin Mary in August after the previous one was vandalized. A gentle strum of a guitar filled the space as members of the church decorated the statue with roses.
The Virgin Mary statue represented the parishioner’s commitment to their faith, Thompson said.
“God doesn’t need a statue, we need the statues, we need the religious objects to kind of motivate us or guide our faith,” Thompson said. “The statue of Mary was serving that purpose. It was an effort of the whole community to replace it.”
Thompson and congregants prayed the rosary, a repetitive prayer and meditation used by Roman Catholics. Prayers can be done individually, Thompson said, but they serve as a way to connect with the people around us.
“It’s personal but it can also be communal. It’s the whole community that gathers together to pray for something specific,” Thompson said “We’re lifting our hearts to God and I think that it affects us in a different way for the community to pray.”
Allen also connects the purpose of prayer to building connections. Allen said she has been previously invited to prayer services at Atatiana Carr-Jefferson and the Colleyville synagogue where hostages were taken in January 2022. The Transform 1012 blessing ceremony was a way for members of a variety of faiths to come together for a cause.
“To be able to sit in that, and give gratitude for the fact that we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves, I think that’s another thing that prayer does too,” Allen said.
Whether blessings are done before a family dinner or to a building, they are typically done in groups as powerful transition moments for the betterment of a community, Quesada said.
“You can’t bless yourself. You ask for divine blessing. You recognize it’s kind of a stance of humility,” Quesada said. “They call for a moment to recognize the good things for which we hope for.”
Want to learn more about blessings?
Jan Quesada, a senior instructor for Texas Christian University’s religion department, suggests visiting Xavier University’s online prayer index to learn about faith traditions from a variety of religions and spiritualities. It also includes prayers related to seasons, holidays and days of remembrance
Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member, covering faith for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter at @marissaygreene.
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