Living and Growing: Being Blessed
I had the privilege of attending the Blessing the Fleet earlier this month. For the past 25 years, the Juneau community has gathered for this event on the first Saturday in May at the Fisherman’s Memorial on the downtown waterfront. The blessing heralds the beginning of the commercial fishing season and acknowledges the dangers of the industry. It is a time filled with celebration and hope for a good year. It is also marked by reverence and somber remembrance of those who have lost their lives in the pursuit of their livelihood.
As much as I like this event and feel honored to participate in it, I have questions that gnaw at me. The questions have nothing to do with the particulars of the fleet blessing, but with the idea of the blessing itself.
Just what is a blessing? What does it mean to bless something, or to say, “I’m blessed?” Are some blessed but others not? If so, why? If a blessing is “successful” does it result in health and wealth?
In some religious traditions and practices, the idea of blessing indicates divine favor. Does God play favorites? Some who preach a prosperity gospel say that God provides riches for the faithful. Some say they are blessed if they pray and they are restored to health. Do these lines of thinking infer, conversely, that poverty and sickness are the result of divine displeasure? Some uses of blessing and blessed seem to imply this, but I think blessedness is about something else.
The Spanish word for “blessed” is bienaventurados. Translated into English this means, “may the adventure go well with.” A blessing expresses the hope and desire that the adventure of life will go well with us. It does not guarantee outcomes, but it shapes outlook. One of the more famous lists of blessings, or beatitudes, is found in the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel. It is a curious compilation. There’s no “healthy, wealthy and wise” blessedness. Large bank accounts, naturally low cholesterol, advanced weaponry, home security devices and acquisition of the latest gizmo don’t make the cut as indicators of blessed existence. Rather, the blessed ones are humble, merciful, grieving peacemakers who work for justice. Being blessed doesn’t depend on circumstances or possessions. It is a state of the spirit, a conviction that the adventure can go well, and the willingness to be attentive to the signs of it so doing.
Part of the human vocation is to work for a just society and to make the planet a better place. But the adventure also goes well when we see the grace notes that can be found in all situations. Any of us can discover such blessedness. It doesn’t have to wait for every problem to be solved, nor every wrong to be righted. It is experiencing beauty, living with gratitude and looking for the good, much as Heather Lende encourages in her new book, “Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-town Obituary Writer.”
Some who feel most blessed have very little by consumer culture standards. The blessed can thrive even amid hardship, ill health, meager resources and lack of advantages that others take for granted. This blessedness is not borne of romanticizing poverty or accepting the unacceptable, but it does require the refusal to be defeated by adversity. Those with blessed lives live with joy, compassion and zest that transcends the particulars of their existence. I have met them in hospital rooms, refugee camps, on the street, at church, in school and at offices. Some are well off by the world’s standards and others haven’t a clue where their next meal is coming from.
Offering a blessing isn’t magic. Being blessed isn’t about having stuff or everything turning out fantastically. I don’t believe God blesses some and not others. Blessedness isn’t divine intervention. It is a state of mind and an openness to awe and wonder.
The adventure can go well for any of us. Different circumstances emerge from a complex array of opportunity, skill, experience, luck, effort, misfortune, privilege and oppression. Living blessedly can happen with or without any of the above. It is embracing life as an adventure and finding joy and love along the way. I pray that as your adventure unfolds, you will find the blessings that await.