I think we should be mindful with language, to know what we are saying before we speak. Everybody knows that words are more powerful than sticks and stones despite the schoolyard litany to the contrary. Bones mend, and if you think that words cannot kill you, then the lessons of history have been lost on you.
Leaving aside the deadly uses of language, what do we know about the words we use daily without thinking? Words of greeting: Good Morning, How are you, Have a nice day, Bless you.
Greetings and salutations. Hello and to your health. Friendly, with meaning only so far as to say, I’m not going to pull out a knife and kill you actually or metaphorically, and whether or not we mean to be friendly when we make the greeting is not the point. How often are we thinking about how much we would like the stranger or friend we are greeting to have a good morning? How would we know what a good morning would look like to them? How often do we really want to hear a report of someone’s condition when we query, how are you? Have a nice day– nice, not spectacular, nice as if that is the best we can hope for or are willing to confer upon another.
Bless you? Ah, now there’s a greeting, a salutation that carries a lot of baggage. This one is doing more than saying, “I’m not going to kill you”. This one is an identifier. It says, “I’m Christian”. The person offering the greeting may indeed want to confer the blessings of God upon the friend or stranger or they may just want to make a statement about their own identity.
I’m thinking there are very many folk out there bringing down the blessings of God upon their fellow human beings who have not really examined the meaning of the word bless. Lately, I’ve been studying French and reading French news on the net. Lots of these news stories involve, as one would expect, events wherein persons meet with unexpected death or are wounded, injured as a result of some calamity. Tuer, to kill. Mort, death. Blessé, injured. Interesting.
Look up the etymology of that word, bless and you find that it is sanguine. All about blood and sacrifice. To be blessed is to bleed in the cause of something. A word like this is beautifully ambiguous. To be blessed by God could mean to be wounded by contact and that wound could be the sign of your state of grace. Holy wounds. Like the Moravians who became obssessively focused on the wounds of Jesus. Like stigmata.
But over time, as the experience of being human in the English speaking world becomes ever more removed from danger, as death withdraws to a safer distance, we lose contact with the sanguine element of blessing.
To invoke blessing becomes less about the blood of Jesus and the life of the spirit and more about removing obstacles that stand between ourselves and what we want. And also about revealing our own sanctimony. Who stops to consider whether or not the recipient of the invocation has any interest in the blessing? Like a spell being cast, an unsolicited prayer may be perceived as unauthorized interference.