Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Sunday Morning Meds--Blessings

“May those who pass by not say, 
'The blessing of the LORD be upon you; 
we bless you in the name of the LORD.'"

For years, I’ve been signing e-mails, notes, and even books with the word “blessings.” I don’t remember when I started scribbling that in, but it was something I did thoughtfully. My father used to bray about the phrase “good luck,” largely because he thought—as does his son—that “luck” is something of a pagan word. In my entire life, I don’t believe I’ve ever signed anything “good luck.”

“Best wishes” always feels a bit too formal, something out of golden years of Hollywood—Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. “May God bless you” is a bit pushy spiritually, and I’m just a bit timid about using the name of the Lord in a gesture of common courtesy or as seeming thanks for buying a book.

I stick with it because that single word “blessings” has just enough grace and just enough nature, an unmistakable religious foreground, but not in-your-face.

I think about the word whenever I use it. I’m not trying to be saintly here, just honest. When I scribble “Blessings,” it's not knee-jerk or obligatory or just plain rote.

But I don’t remember ever willfully not using that word either. People I don’t know buy books, strangers I’ve never met and will not likely see again. Yet, I’m sure I’ve written “Blessings” somewhere on the title page, "Blessings" to them.

Charles Spurgeon says Psalm 129’s “those who pass by” is a reference to an ancient harvest tradition, something called the seasonal blessing. Once the crop is in, he says, farm laborers would visit each other for a ritual mutual blessing. If Spurgeon is right about this psalm, then I should probably watch on whose title page I write that word, because what the psalmist says is this: may those who hate Zion not receive even that blessing. May they not receive it because that blessing is God’s blessing.

All of which returns us to the question hovering over this psalm and the others that contain such difficult “imprecations," many of those far more chilling than this one, outright curses on enemy evil-doers. 

Psalms like 129 are tough to read because the intent seems the opposite of, say, Matthew 5: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

In my life, I know this—it is far simpler to side with Jesus and pray for those who seem enemies than it is to draw a sword and side with the poet of Psalm 129.

But then, what I do I know of evil, of persecution, of crackling fires beneath your feet, of tortures and internment, of martyrdom? Nothing, really. In a way, it’s easier to pray for one’s enemies than it is to have to go to war. 

Even though much of C. S. Lewis's work emerges from the horrors of bombed-out England during the second World War, even though he knew persecution, I think he was right: “The ferocious parts of the Psalms serve as a reminder that there is in the world such a thing as wickedness,” he wrote in Reflections on the Psalms, “and that . . . is hateful to God.”

Perhaps pluralism softens us, softens me. The gospel commands us to love, but it also commits us to vigilance.

Nonetheless, as I often write, “Blessings.”


Anonymous said...

"All of which returns us to the question hovering over this psalm and the others that contain such difficult “imprecations," many of those far more chilling than this one, outright curses on enemy evil-doers. "

I shudder when I read David's "curses on the evil-doers" throughout the Psalms cause he was an overt evil-doer himself... just ask Uriah... Yet, he was perceived as a "man after God's own heart."... really... after the decapitation he dragged Goliath's head around as a trophy... how base...

It seems rather audacious to think he could cast "outright curses on enemy evil-doers".

Jerry27 said...

I had a late freind who always closed by saying "keep looking up."

Psalm 18, might have been read for inspiration by Lt. William Calley before his foray into My Lai:

37 I have pursued mine enemies and overtaken them: neither did I turn again till they were consumed. I have wounded them that they were not able to rise: they are fallen under my feet. For thou has girded me with strength unto the battle: thou has subdued under me those that rose up against me. Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that I might destroy them that hate me. They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the Lord, but he answered them not. Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind: I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets. Thou hast delivered me from the strivings of the people; and thou has made me the head of the heathen: a people whom I have not known shall serve me. As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto me.