30, The Ridgeway
Friday, 1 July 2011
‘Have you counted your blessings today?’ In an account of a Christmas Dinner written in 1836, Charles Dickens said “Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” But what is a blessing? Most of us think we know, but it is very easy to take the word, and blessings themselves, for granted. ‘Blessing’ is much more than the collective noun for a group of unicorns!
There are two things to say about the word itself, which is two-dimensional: it has both an Old English heritage, and an association with the Latin benedīcere. Such two-dimensionality is a characteristic of modern English, since our now world-dominant language is a blend of the old Germanic languages of Northern Europe through the Saxons, and French and Latin as a consequence of the Norman invasion of 1066. Thus, on the first hand, in Nordic and Saxon pagan cultures, to ‘bless’ something was to make it holy by some ritual act, which in some case involved marking it with blood. On the other, Norman, hand is the idea of benediction, which literally means ‘to speak well of’, or to wish well. Clearly today, our use of the word ‘bless’, as noun or verb, involves both of these two understandings.
In contrast, Hebrew culture, from which our Bible emerges, thought of a blessing as something coming directly from God. God is either credited with or is invoked in blessing. From antiquity priests, as ministers of God, were able to pronounce God’s gracious favour on people and on food and drink. Traditions of Passover and Holy Communion draw on the idea that the Creator is not only the provider of the food and drink in the first place, but that as we acknowledge and thank him for it, particular meals, or dishes take on a special divine significance and power. A blessing also entailed protection and conferred approval, sometimes altering the course of history.
So as we enjoy barbecues and summer parties and holidays this season, let’s remember to both count and give thanks for all the blessings we receive from God that come in and through our common faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.