Setting aside the annoying assumption that often lurks in the background of this pronouncement that God should bless the U.S. over and above other countries, there is the question, “What does it mean for God to bless us as a nation?”
To even begin to answer that question first requires that we come to some sense of what blessing is. Most of us, I suspect, think of it as some good that is bestowed upon us. In Biblical scripture, though, blessing does not flow in just one direction. God’s blessing by which we humans receive a share of the divine goodness and purpose is met by our blessing God – our recognition and thanks that the Divine exists and is acting among us.
But that is not where blessing stops for many of us. Sneezes elicit blessing (the beginning of which was more magical than theological in the days of mass death from disease). Crosses and rosaries in some traditions are blessed. People’s hearts are blessed, as in “Oh, bless your heart.” Animals on the Feast of St. Francis are blessed. As a species, we seem inclined to bless. For those of us in the Christian tradition, we don’t think of blessings as originating with us. Blessings are something we pass on. They have come to us first from God.
But can there be blessing even in the lives of those who don’t believe in God? I recently ran across a quote, the source for which I cannot locate, that prompted me to start wondering if that can be the case. Since the numbers of folks who fall into the god-free category in this country is on the rise, and assuming that blessing is good, it would seem to be a positive thing if the non-religious were to join us religious types in this world of blessing.
The quote is, “ To bless something is to bring it within the bounds and the requirements of a moral universe.” If that can also be a functioning definition of “blessing” then clearly all of us can participate in this dance of goodness and purpose and thanks.
But, when we consider what form that blessing might take in our country we would do well to be on the lookout for the shadow that often lurks at the edges of blessing – American exceptionalism. The Biblical understanding that God blesses us so that we can be a blessing (Gen 12:2) seems to me to be more in harmony with our living within the “requirements of a moral universe,” than the notion that we receive blessing because we are better, or so that we can be better than other nations. My reading of scripture says that God grants us (or anyone) what is good so that it can be given away. Passed on. Shared.
However you and I might understand blessing for our nation, it will never be played out in isolation. We live in, and as part of, an intricately interwoven global system. What affects us, affects others. What affects others, affects us, no matter how much we might like to think otherwise.
As we approach our upcoming elections, may God bless America – may we bring our country within the bounds and requirements of a moral universe – and to the extent that that happens, may we be truly thankful.
Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or firstname.lastname@example.org.