I know that I am blessed! Early in my life my younger brother and I were taught to sing in harmony, “Count your blessings, name them one by one!” and most of my life I have been able to, have chosen to do that, with the melody and harmony etched in my heart and soul. I do believe, as the Reformers did, that the first response to God’s grace is gratitude, made concrete in counting my blessings. To acknowledge my blessings is one thing. To be a blessing to others is another worthy goal. Yet, in coming up to the lectionary text for the next week from Romans 12, I see a more action packed mandate, following the words of Jesus: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. (Roman 12: 14).
I have been musing on this mandate in the face of how many horrifying events have entered my awareness these last weeks of summer: a beheading, a drone, a sniper, a suicide bomber, a shooting of an unarmed kid. How is it possible to bless those who persecute and ravage and abuse power? And how do I keep from cursing the unconscionable evil that proliferates and seems to be winning in so many places?
I am seeking to be a person on blessing rather than cursing. Blessing is an obscure practice for 21st C people of faith; words of blessing are not often used in the vernacular of our every day lives. However. Barbara Brown Taylor in her book An Altar in the World says:
To pronounce a blessing on something is to see it from the divine perspective. To pronounce a blessing is to participate in God’s own initiative. To pronounce a blessing is to share God’s own audacity. (206)
I am sensing that to be an active “bless-er” of persecutors and events, of people and systems, I must begin with some basic attitudes and principles:
- to bless is never to condone evil behavior.
- to bless means to act from a place of humility– in the translation of J.B. Phillips, “to have a sane estimate of our own abilities,” to let go of my own entitlement and arrogance about who and what is right all the time, praying that I will have understanding.
- to bless means to allow my compassion for the enemy develop in a way that helps me understand how and why they are motivated, how each one, despite bad behavior, was created in the image of God.
- to bless means to be very conscious and precise about my word choices, to be very careful that what I say and where I choose to say it are “things that make for peace,” not just so facile and clever as to get a laugh or even an “amen!”
- to bless means to take each one seriously, not to use a blessing as a way to trivialize or dismiss someone, as in “oh, just bless his heart!”
- to bless is to be organic, the blessing observable in my face, posture, gestures and eyes.
- to bless is a way in which I will not be overcome with evil, as in Romans 12: 21, a way to ground myself in the goodness of the Holy, and in the creative intent of the Creator
- to bless is to contribute to the overcoming of evil with good, as mandated in the same verse; I confess I don’t always see how that is possible!
I don’t believe that as a clergy person I have any extraordinary powers of blessing that will do magic, bring about miracles, or can even make people feel better. But I am increasingly convinced that to offer my blessing in word and action is to be faithful to the Holy One who blesses the world with Presence and Love, and somehow will make my little piece of the planet a little more aware of that Presence and Love for all of us.