Blest and kept

Why and how I bless my children

My siblings and I have a special fondness for Peter Lutkin’s classic setting of the Numbers blessing. We all sang it in high school choir; now we sing it together at family weddings and funerals and occasionally when we’re just sitting around. Most of us know at least one voice part by heart. We’re shakier, however, on the words. We know them all, we just get confused about the order. When exactly does the Lord be gracious unto you, as opposed to giving you peace?

It took me years to realize where this confusion comes from: Lutkin sets the biblical text out of order. That’s a problem for us, because Numbers 6:24–26 itself lives even deeper in our bones than Lutkin’s music does. This text’s role in our childhood is both the reason we love the choral setting and the reason we’re thrown off by its rather minor liberties with the text.

My parents prayed with us a lot when we were little. We were Baptists turned nondenominational, so we rarely used precomposed texts; the Numbers blessing was the major exception. Most nights, after we were fed and bathed and jammied and tucked in, my dad went from bed to bed, put his hand on our heads, and blessed us. He took his own liberties with the text by mixing translations: