Countless ways we can bless others


The weather is getting warmer, and flowers are popping up in yards everywhere. What’s that saying? February showers make March flowers. It’s enough to make anyone feel better. You don’t even need to go outside. Just open the window, and let the fresh air in, and count your blessings.

Blessings, other than the knee-jerk “bless you” after someone sneezes, are usually taken to mean something with grace, holiness, spiritual redemption, or divine will— or all of the above. Someone who’s spiritually inclined or someone who practices gratitude may see every facet of their life as a blessing. Someone else, who’s more caught up in the toils of modern existence, may not see any blessings at all.

Do you give blessings, other than when people sneeze?

Did you know that the custom to bless a person when they sneeze is a holdover from the Black Death, the plague of 14th century Europe? That means that we’ve been saying “bless you” after sneezes for about 700 years! (We also have English nursery rhymes that are that old.) That’s an awfully long time to be blessing people! That might help explain why it’s habit, it’s old hat. We’ve been doing it for so long we’ve forgotten why we started doing it in the first place.

While there’s no record of Jesus actually sneezing, it’s safe to presume that he did. He just lived several centuries before the Black Death, so no one would have blessed him after he sneezed. However, we do know that Jesus was in the business of giving blessings. In fact, he is quoted by two authors as giving a sermon on blessings, known as the Beatitudes. One author has a longer list:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,

Blessed are those who mourn,

Blessed are the meek,

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

Blessed are the merciful,

Blessed are the pure in heart,

Blessed are the peacemakers,

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me…

The other has it shorter:

Blessed are you who are poor,

Blessed are you who hunger now,

Blessed are you who weep now,

Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil…

They both have him blessing the lowly, downtrodden people on the margins. Jesus was always looking out for the sex workers, the debt collectors, the misfits and have nots. He did this so well, so often, and so much that people in power saw him as a thorn in their sides. Why couldn’t he just leave well enough alone?

Jesus was a radical reformer of his time, an era when the Roman Empire was occupying Palestine, making Palestinians out to be the “other.” Jesus, instead, worked to break down barriers between people, to promote compassion and camaraderie.

Military regimes and empires, old and new, do their best to separate, to make enemies, and to make them less than human. They employ other-than-human language to keep us separated, referring to the “other” as dogs or rats, or even worse: trash or filth. Know that anyone who refers to other human beings in such language is stoking fear and paranoia. Jesus would call them out for it.

He knew, and he taught others, that the more blessings you give, the more you have to share.

There are many ways to bless people. You can make them a meal, loan them some money, ask how they’re doing, or do them some other favor. You can ask about their family. You can be considerate of their feelings and give them a smile. Try to recognize the humanity in them, and see that it’s no different from the humanity in you. Give them compassion, or at least the time of day.

If only intentional, mindful blessings were as common as sneezes.

Then we wouldn’t have to take it on faith that life itself is a blessing, and say with the pagans,

Blessed Be.

David Soliday is the minister at the Delaware Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

No posts to display