You can have heaven on earth. You can live the good life now. So write Chris Seidman and Joshua Graves in their new book, Heaven on Earth: Realizing the Good Life Now. The good life they imagine is not the result of self-interest or lifestyles of the rich and famous but living in accordance with the way of Christ described in the Sermon on the Mount and in the particular the Beatitudes. (Matthew 5:3-12)
The key element of the Beatitudes is to live a life of blessing, giving and receiving God’s blessing in every encounter and seeing your life in terms of God’s abundance. The poor, grieving, justice-seeking, persecuted, and meek are blessed as a result of their sense of connection with God. They realize that they cannot make it on their own, and need God’s blessing to respond to challenges of life. The art of being blessed is about claiming the gifts of interdependence with God and others. It is about growing in wisdom and stature and embracing life’s giftedness in all its variety, living relationally and not individualistically.
A year ago I made a commitment to bless the world and enter every situation, even challenging ones, with a spirit of blessing. I committed myself to blessing store clerks, impatient drivers, political candidates, people I pass on the street, friends, and family members. Usually under my breath, or in my heart, or occasionally on my lips, I would pronounce the words, “Bless you” or “God bless you.” I chose to begin each day with the Psalmist’s blessing, “This is the day that God has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Though I often failed to follow through in my commitment to bless, usually as result of being caught up in the busyness of the day, blessing has become a way of life for me. It has changed my perception of the world and enabled me to respond creatively to challenging situations and people. It has opened my eyes to synchronicity and wonder and spiritual and interpersonal resources I had not previously imagined.
We are blessed, but just don’t realize it. In fact our failure to claim our place in a dynamic ecology of blessing is one of the sources of anxiety, polarization, impatience, and greed. I believe that we live within a dynamic ecology of blessing. Apart from the gifts of others, we would neither exist nor flourish. During the election cycle, President Obama was criticized in some quarters for noting that successful business people “didn’t create” their businesses. Critics assumed that the President was denying personal initiative and creativity. In fact, the president was asserting that each one of us depends on countless others for our successes in life. Our lives emerge from the gifts of others, humans and non-humans, and contribute to those who beyond us. A life of blessing, accordingly, takes us beyond self-interest and individualism to healthy relatedness.
Blessing is a matter of vision and interpretation. A life of blessing involves seeing God’s presence in all things and committing ourselves to bringing forth the holiness residing in others’ lives. To bless is to be open to possibility and transformation and to see the world with new and fresh eyes. Those who bless encounter the world with open hearts and open hands and open minds. They live by a deeper realism than the bottom line or scarcity thinking; a divine realism grounded in the perception of God’s inspiration, energy, and guidance moving through every situation. Yes, there are five loaves and two fish, but blessing multiplies loaves and provides a meal for thousands, who let go of scarcity thinking and awaken to the abundance of sharing; yes, the evening was a failure and no fish were caught, but blessing awakens us to new waters and a surprising bounty; yes, we have turned our back on our highest values, but blessing inspires to begin again on the path of wholeness; yes, our hearts have been broken, but blessing enables us to love again, to be love-finder and not a fault-finder.
The path of blessing opens hearts, hands, and heads to give and to receive. In gratitude for the blessings of life and love, we open to the bounty of God’s creation and become a blessing to those around us.
I invite you as the year ends to try a spiritual experiment: to simply bless everyone you meet. You don’t have to say anything. You only have to experience your connection and the energy flowing through you as your heart whispers “Bless you.” I suspect that your world will change. You will discover more friends than enemies and find new resources; you will experience yourself at home in God’s universe regardless of the circumstances of life. And, so let me, say to you, “God bless you.”
For more conversation on Heaven on Earth, visit the Patheos Book Club here.