Blessed Catastrophe: The Staggering Account of the Sermon on the Mount

Blessed Catastrophe: The Staggering Account of the Sermon on the Mount January 28, 2016


So I’ve been thinking about this thing where pro-life folks like to call unplanned pregnancies “unexpected blessings.” Personally, I hate the term, but I’ve been trying to figure out why. I mean, Malachi (who was totally not planned by me) really is just an awesome, rockin’ baby. He’s adorable. He has this wonderful look of perpetual bewilderment and disgruntlement about everything, which has led to him being nick-named “Gruntly” (he does also just make grunting sounds a lot.) He’s also, finally, a boy who looks like a Malachi — a name that we’ve wanted to use since our first was in the womb. I am also convinced that he has a lightning gland in the middle of his forehead, and that when it matures bolts will shoot forth to strike down things that need smiting.

In a word, I am enamoured. Which of course means that I am tremendously pleased with the “accident” of his conception.

But “unexpected blessing” still rubs me the wrong way, and I think I’ve finally figured out why.

It’s because the word “blessing” in contemporary Christian discourse too often means “really nice thing that brings roses into your life.” You land your dream job: what a blessing! Nice new home? You’re so blessed! Lovely smart daughter wins college scholarship? She must be such a blessing to you!

But if you say “I lost my job” or “I’ve been diagnosed with cancer,” or “My sister died,” nobody ever says, “You’re so blessed!” Except this one really weird dude several thousand years ago on a mountain in the Middle East.

“Blessed are you…” when really bad thing that nobody wants happens. Because God. That’s the Beatitudes, ColesNotes version.

The thing is, it’s true. Way too often, the things that we think of as blessings — the things that we hope, and long, and pray for — are actually not blessings at all. Whereas, the things that we fear and dread and try our darnedest to avoid turn out to be Just. The. Thing.

So, Malachi is, as it happens, an unexpected blessing. Blessed are you when you’re sick, and tired, and overwhelmed, and behind on everything, and against all odds you get pregnant. For you will see the imago dei. Again. In a whole new, fantastic, unexpected way.

Disclaimer: this is not, of course, to write off all of the completely legitimate criticisms that could be launched against NFP, or to trivialize the difficulties that women have, or any of that shit. That’s not the the point. Obviously we should work for a more just situation, we should continue to engage with the questions, we shouldn’t afflict people (or, indeed, ourselves) with burdens just so that they/we can be blessed. Thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the test, and all that jazz.

I’m not talking here about justifying situations where people feel trapped and desperate. When Christ said “Blessed are the poor” He did not mean, “Neglect the poor, for they are blessed.” What I’m talking about are the situations that arise in our own lives, whether as the result of injustice, or sin, or just plain horrible luck. The situations where God has the opportunity to bless us in suffering. What a dearly beloved character of mine calls “Necessary catastrophes.”

This is the thing that you dread which happens to be the cure for the thing that you are suffering from. The thing that you fear the way that people in the ancient world, before the advent of anesthetics, must have feared surgery. It always takes the form of a) something that you would never choose for yourself, b) something that you hope and pray will never come to pass, and c) something that feels like death by drowning when it actually occurs.

And then… and then…

Blessedness. Beatitude.

There’s not a better word for it, really. A kind of happiness that comes from the worse having happened, and it turning out that it wasn’t actually bad at all. That in fact, it was very, very good.


malachi side eye
Malachi isn’t sure about this. See, you would call him “Gruntly” too.


Top image courtesy of Pixabay. Malachi looking wonky-eyed, courtesy of me.

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