IN this week's community column Rev Christine Murdoch discusses how small acts of kindness can have a big impact.


“Achoo!” When you hear someone sneeze, what is your reaction?

I suspect that just as sneezing is an automatic reaction to an irritation in our nasal passages, many of us will automatically reply, “Bless you!” Why?

One theory on the origin of “bless you” is that in Tudor England, a sneeze was regarded as a sign that the person who was sneezing had the plague, and a blessing was to wish them a speedy return to good health.

This is probably an urban legend, because sneezing isn’t a symptom of bubonic plague.

Whatever the reason, what do we mean when we “bless” someone?

One suggestion is that the word bless comes from a Latin word, benedicere, and a Greek word, eulogein, both of which mean to “speak well of”. In time, the meaning shifted towards “to make happy”.

I’ve been reading Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World, and in it, he suggests that the meaning of “bless” could be “to add strength to another’s arm”.

As someone who automatically says, “bless you” when I hear someone sneeze, I’ve been giving much thought as to how I can strengthen that person’s arm – how can I make that person’s day a little brighter or a little easier for them?

Michael Frost suggests three ways. The first is a word of affirmation, in other words to pay the person a compliment – though perhaps not on the way they sneeze!

Making a random act of kindness, expecting nothing in return, is another way to bless someone – as is giving a simple gift.

Our gifts may not necessarily cost us money; rather they might cost us time or effort.

This Lent, instead of “giving up”, I am trying to “take up”, and I am trying to ensure that I strengthen someone else’s arm each day.

This is one way that I can try and speak the language of kindness, as recommended in these pages a few weeks ago by my friend and colleague Ian Miller.