'Blessings, Cathie'. This is how I close most emails and any other correspondence. I like to remember how many blessings I have received, and to wish abundant blessings on others. It is even part of my job as a priest to bless others, to pronounce the blessing of God as someone ordained by the people and the Holy Spirit as a living vessel of the sacraments and traditions of the church. I believe God does richly bless us all, whether in a formal setting when we pay special attention to God's presence among us or the many times and places when this presence surprises, delights or comforts us. I am often overwhelmed by how blessed I feel by the love, good fortune, and abundance I feel in my life, and I want others to feel this, too.
So I was bemused to read an article recently entitled 'The one thing Christians should stop saying', and to discover that the author believes that we should stop saying we are blessed!
Now, in fairness, I think he makes some good points. He says, in essence, that we should avoid implying that we are blessed and others are not, particularly if the further implication is that we are blessed because we asked nicely, or are very good or somehow God really likes us better than others. He reminds us that God is not Santa Claus, rewarding those who have done well while leaving spiritual or financial coal for the not-so-righteous. He also brings up the important point that many, many of our brothers and sisters do not feel blessed, but live in fear, suffering, or extreme poverty. He includes the beatitudes from Matthew's Gospel: blessed are the poor, the meek, those who mourn, the peacemakers, the ones persecuted for righteousness' sake. The rewards of heaven are not the comforts of the material world, and this is very true for Christians.
I am still going to keep saying I am blessed, however.
This is because I believe in a God of great abundance, a God who wants us all to receive blessings upon blessings, who 'wipes every tear from every eye', and 'will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow', according to the prophet Isaiah (and the Book of Revelation). I follow Jesus, whose first miracle was not healing the sick or raising the dead, it was turning water into (very good) wine at a wedding. Who constantly told parables about wedding feasts and banquets, about pearls of great price and stewards entrusted with enormous sums of money. In short, I believe that part of the good news of the Gospel is the good news that God desires us to have our hearts' content and then some. And that the poor are blessed not because God wants us all to be poor, but because God wants none of us to be poor. Or to suffer. Or to mourn.
But some do, and that's the concern, right? What right do I have to rejoice in my happy home, my good health, my material abundance, when so many of my bothers and sisters have none of these? Is my blessing at the expense of someone else's?
I don't think so, and I don't think that this is what God desires for any of us. This is also where sin comes in. I believe that the reason there is poverty, hunger, pain and suffering, even disease, is not because God visits these things on some and not others, or because of any kind of punishment, but that these things are the consequences of our individual and corporate decisions to turn away from God's love, every day.
If everyone did everything out of love at all times, we would be in heaven. But this is not the case. So just as my inattention or unkindness can result in hurting someone's feelings or causing an accident, so can billions of unloving decisions lead to global suffering in terms of pollution, political unrest, even illness (think what happens when food is not regulated or health care is not available to all). These are things no one wants, but sin is like spiritual pollution, which can mitigate the blessings that God desires for us all.
And so I think it is part of my job as a Christian believer to turn towards the love of God in every way, and to share the abundance that I experience - material abundance, and also the abundance of grace, gratitude, forgiveness, hope and love that I have received. To cherish every last bit of good news in my life as a way of infusing my community and my world with the belief in the Kingdom of God, which hopefully inspires me to live in a way that promotes good news for everyone. The more we believe, the more we act like we believe, and the less suffering there is. It is a virtuous cycle I am happy to be part of, and I count, and share, my blessings every day.