Translation Canon Tony Dickinson
The United Protestant Church has embarked on a reflection about blessing. James Woody sums up the deep meaning of the word “blessing”, common and often misunderstood
What if the real mission of the Church, of its members, was to bless? Let us try to look at it from a different angle; let us try not to think about our ecclesial balancing acts, about the balance of power between the different currents, the different sensibilities; let us try not to focus on the question of same-sex couples, and let us think about the situation of the Christian in the midst of this world which God so loved, according to the terms of St. John’s Gospel. To love this world is to make the word of God still resound today so that it takes flesh. It is to make ring out even today these words of God which make a world we can live with arise out of the primordial chaos which surrounds us.
To speak well:
The verb “to bless”, in the biblical languages, means “to speak well of”. This is particularly noticeable with the Greek word “eulogia”, “good word”, which gives us the word “eulogy”. To bless is to make a eulogy. That is comprehensible to everyone, whether they believe or not, whether they belong to a Church or not. We know that to give a eulogy is rare in our day. There are many funeral eulogies which happen too late. There is indeed the eulogy which new Academicians give about their predecessor – who is dead. They are therefore interested only in asserting their rhetorical skill. To give a eulogy, to speak well of someone, is more and more rare among the living. Now it is indeed the God of the living whom we intend to honour, and so it is to the living that we have to address the appropriate eulogies. To bless, then, to speak well of someone, is what is cruelly lacking in our days. It is futile to make a catalogue of the unkindnesses, or even the anathemas, which are exchanged on the public square: anyone interested in current events can stock-pile them. This is a time for denigration, otherwise called cursing, a word which is not only not creative; it reduces the existence of the person to whom it is addressed, and even goes so far as to dishonour him. The Church has of course a prophetic dimension; believers have sometimes to say no, to refuse what they consider contrary to divine hope. But the essential part of the Christian task is to speak these good words which make the world more liveable, which broaden the horizon.
Opening rather than stamping a ticket
“Speaking well of” is not envisaged in the guise of assent to what is. Blessings do not consist in a word which attests that the present state of things is satisfactory. Blessing is an opening to a possible future. In the first creation story in Genesis God blesses the living beings, as he shows them that they are capable of being fertile, of growing (Genesis 1:22). To the man he adds that he is capable of being responsible for what is alive (Genesis 1:28). Further on, the blessings of the patriarchs indicate a possible future. They take life forward as they lure it on with bright new possibilities, new challenges to meet. These blessings are so many elements which can act as biblical leverage for process theology pointing God out as the one who permits the re-injection of the possible into the human story. As such, the blessing of Joseph by his father, Jacob, is an example. Jacob says to his son: “The blessings of your father prevail over the blessings of those who conceived me, to the ends of the everlasting hills.” (Genesis 49:26) There we discover that a blessing adds life to life, that it allows the surpassing of the present state to make the future yet more dazzling and to register it in what Christian theology calls eternal life. Here we see that blessing sets life ablaze – white-hot with desire for the eternal hills, as the Bible puts it. It is not about conforming life to a norm, a pre-determined state, but allowing it to fulfil itself in the range of what is possible, according to the desire which God arouses. To bless is not to stamp a ticket, but to open a future for the one to whom the words are addressed.
In turning blessing into an act of the Church, whereas it was initially a family gesture, an inter-personal gesture, we have lost its spontaneity. It did not need lengthy preparations in the biblical stories, and appeared as suddenly and unexpectedly as God does in the story of the biblical characters. We have also lost the popular character of a blessing which was not the business of a separate caste which held onto the power of good words. As far back as the book of Genesis, there has been a universal priesthood when it comes to blessing. There is a risk-taking, a personal interpretation, through which the one who blesses involves himself in offering a wealth of meaning for what follows.
The Boldness of Blessing:
To bless, then, is not a conventional business. A blessing is never self-evident insofar as it does not endorse a state of fact in the same way as a diploma of itself approves a state of knowledge. Blessing does not affect the outcome of the verification of a list of specific points which would give the right to a certificate; it is a word offered to intensify what is alive, to open awareness of the range of what is to come. Blessing is, then, always a word which ventures to look to this future, discerning what God has in building in the life of the one who is going to be blessed, what he is calling him to accomplish, what is his vocation.
Because there is never anything automatic in a blessing, even the one pronounced a little mechanically at the end of an act of worship, there is still a crazy claim in the very act of blessing: each blessing is a re-interpretation of our human calling. If it does not by any means contain our future, blessing is a stimulation which can carry us further than we would have envisaged on our own account. Blessing, this word pronounced on my existence by someone other than me, is capable of heightening a claim on my life, of reviving a desire which will no longer be dependent on my will alone.
To bless one’s enemies, one’s adversaries, is to recognise that they are indeed worth more than what they present on the surface and what provokes my opposition. It is to find in them what is loved by God and what is called to take a preponderant role. Instead of denigrating what we will not put up with, the Apostle Paul advises us to overcome it with good (Romans 12:21). To give more space to what is just, to what is beautiful, to what is capable of causing happiness, to share in the “enjoyment” of the world to use a neologism arising out of process theology.
To bless those whose path we cross is to give them a surplus of enthusiasm; not because of a supernatural character of blessing which would possess an intrinsic power, but because of the beneficent effect which a word can have when it is the bearer of love, the agape whose characteristics the Apostle Paul gave in 1 Corinthians 13. When families or individuals come to encounter a pastor, that is what they have the right to hope: a word which instils agape love in their story; a word which enlarges their horizon, which deepens their understanding of their calling, which encourages them to become engaged with all their being on behalf of the kingdom of God.
A blessing then is not intended to shut up those who are blessed in a framework or in a destiny, but to stimulate in them the taste for the infinite, the passion for the eternal. Also when it comes to a couple, it matters little to me whether they are civilly married or not, whether the sexes of the partners are inversely proportional or not, whether they are members of my congregation or not. All the same, I do not ask for diplomas, the extract from the court file, but I am interested in what each of them feels intuitively about the eternal and in what each intends to do about that, in order to formulate a blessing which gives it material for hope commensurate with God. Let us bless freely as we utter the eulogy of a life that has been set ablaze.
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