a Pagan concept?
For Christians, blessings are splattered throughout their everyday lives, their worship, and in the Bible. But blessings are not only for Christianity or Paganism; they are a fundamental part of just about any religion.
"God bless America!"
"God bless America", we say; and we say it quite frequently (check the phrase for yourself in Google). Despite pride being one of the seven cardinal sins, we are proud of our country, and celebrate it by imploring God to bless it. We single-out our nation over any other, as though we are not interested in God blessing anyone else but ourselves.
"God bless football!"
Yes, people have said that also, yet perhaps due to the lack of other words to say how wonderful they feel the game is. And this raises some questions:
- Can only people; i.e. beings with a spiritual soul, be blessed?
- Or can inanimate objects also be blessed, as the pre-Pagan animists did, believing that inanimate objects possess a spiritual essence?
- And if so, is an abstract concept, such as the game of football, capable of receiving a blessing?
Let's see what the Bible says.
Num. 6:22-27 and hundreds of other places relates how God blesses people, but what about non-human animals and objects?
Well, Exod. 23:25 says that if we serve God, then He will bless our "bread and water". Similarly Jesus blessed bread in Matt. 26:26, which is a pretty clear proof that not only a natural and simple chemical such as water can be blessed, but also an artificial food, a man-made preparation, can also be blessed. Deut. 28:5 goes even further, by blessing a basket and kneading trough.
And way before that, right at the very beginning of time, we read in Gen. 1:21-23 that God blessed the living creatures of the sea and winged birds of the air. In Gen. 39:5 God blessed everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. In Deut. 28:4, 8, 12, livestock, crops and barns are blessed.
Modern opinion tries to pull us away from treating objects (a shiny new car) as subjects (she's a beauty!) yet it makes sense for humans to have respect for things, to bestow a non-human personhood on insentiency. It makes sense to fear poison, to fear the grizzly bear, to fear natural forces such as fire, and so on. These respectful relationships make us human.
And we bless things.
Even the Church, the professional experts who have studied the soul for much longer than modern philosophers, will bless inanimate things. From the perspective of Roman Catholicism at least, the Fall of Man also affected inanimate objects, making them dangerous aids in the hands of evil people, or unsuitably blighted for religious use (see Rom. 7:19-20).
There's nothing Animistic, Neopagan or Ecopagan about the blessing of non-humans. Neither does it contradict our egocentric view that humans are unique. Rather it's the realisation that living in concert with non-human things on this planet, indeed in the Universe, is vital to survival.
Blessed by whom?
In a secular context, a blessing can be synonymous with permission or consent. For example, having the blessing of one's family and one's partner's family to get married.
In a religious context, being blessed means to have God's favour. God, the creator of blessings, can bless us with good health, a good family, etc. Just being alive is a blessing.
"Count your many blessings and see what God has done", goes the old (1897) hymn by Johnson Oatman. Nina Simone updated this in 1968 with Ain't Got No, I Got Life, and recorded again in 2012 by Spice Girl Melanie C. Whichever version you prefer, the message is the same: Count your blessings and cherish what you have.
Can we bless God?
The answer is found in Ps. 103, where we are told that we should bless God. "Bless the Lord, O my soul". This is not to suggest that God sneezes, rather this blessing is interpreted to mean 'praising', which is synonymous with early translations of the word.
In the Church, formal blessing ceremonies (liturgical rites) are the reserve of bishops, priests and deacons. They may be aided by a particular cross, a candle, incense, etc. Yet however formal or informal a blessing may be, and whoever or whatever is the recipient of that blessing, it is likely that God values the blesser's sincerity more than the blesser's ecclesiastical status or blessing aids.
To wish blessings on somebody is the most positive feeling we can have and ranks alongside things like love. God created love, God loves us and encourages us to spread this love. Similarly, God created blessings, God blesses us and wants us to spread blessings .
Most references to 'blessings' in the Bible are found in the Old Testament. Not only blessings from God, but a big chunk of the references shows kings, lords and fathers blessing those beneath them.
In the New Testament, Jesus encourages people to bless one another, regardless of superiority. However, we seem to have gone overboard with blessing just about anyone and anything, and the Church considers this to be vital. If someone or something is not blessed for Divine service, then they are at risk from being snatched by evil spirits.
But there's a danger that if blessings are so abundant, we lose sight of their spiritual purpose and they become little more than lucky charms bestowed on people. Sure, it's nice to hear somebody saying "Bless you", but unless it comes from the heart, it has about as much value as the word love in "I love ice cream".
(See also Blessing Cross)
Why do we say "Bless you!" after somebody sneezes? See Black Death Cross.
God wants us to spread blessings: Rom. 12:14
Particularly in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, etc.
Nuclear fission energy, for example, releases much lower levels of greenhouse gasses, and produces an immense amount of useful power at minimal operating costs.
The downside is that people can be so easily annihilated, either through industrial accidents or nuclear bombs.
Blessing comes from the Old English word bletsian, which means to consecrate and make holy. This word originates from the Proto-Germanic word blothisojan, "marking with blood".
An ancient Pagan ritual included sprinkling an altar with blood, as a sign of sincerity.
Those rather extreme days are over. Now we are content to simply say "Bless you!"