Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I'm Blessed

The phone rings. I answer it. On the other end is a long pause. Then, the audio kicks in, and a muffled voice surrounded by background noise asks, “May I please speak with Evan Garner?” I know this won’t be good.

“This is he.”

“Hello, Mr. Garner,” the voice from nowhere I know continues. “How are you today?”

“I’m fine. How are you?” (I ask the question as a reflex—no thought goes into it, and no real care for the answer is intended.)

“I’m blessed. Thank you for asking.”

Uh oh. Things just got a whole lot worse.

Why do people say, “I’m blessed?” What do they mean? Do they mean that their state of being at that moment is primarily defined by an appreciation of God’s blessing? Or do they say that with absolutely no consideration for what it means but simply want the hearer to know that they are a person of faith? Or do they say that as a way of upping the faith-based ante: “I’m blessed…and, since you didn’t say it first, clearly you’re not a real Christian.”

I hate it when people tell me they are blessed. Maybe my cynical side is creeping in even more strongly than usual, but when did it become appropriate to answer a common pleasantry by raising the nature of the conversation to a whole new and decidedly religious plane?

There was a different preacher on the same golf course I mentioned in a blog post last week who, when greeted by a clergy colleague from another denomination, answered his friendly greeting by saying, “Oh, I’m blessed.” I hope he shanked one out of bounds on number 8.

Despite whatever I think about people identifying themselves as recipients of divine favor, it seems clear that Mary—of all people—was entitled to give such a reply. In this Sunday’s gospel lesson (or canticle, if you’re reading it), she declares, “My soul magnifies the Lord…Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me…” I know it’s my jaded self-righteousness creeping in again, but, until this year, I’ve always heard Mary’s song, the Magnificat, as an overwhelming expression both of humility and arrogance. Every time I hear it, even though I know she’s earned it, I ask myself, “What kind of person gets to declare that all generations will forever call her blessed?” Mary, of course.

But this year I hear something different. I bet most Christians have heard this all along, but this time I hear Mary saying, “Wow! What an amazing gift! Anyone who looks at me will surely call me blessed for God has done all of this for me!” And that brings me to a theology of blessedness.

What does it mean to be blessed? Where do blessings come from? God, of course, is the answer to the latter question. And I think that’s the point of asking the first one. We are only blessed because of an outside agent. We can’t make ourselves blessed. It’s the kind of thing that has to come from somewhere else.

So that’s what I need to learn to accept when someone says to me, “I’m blessed.” Maybe he isn’t saying, “Look at me and at how good I am! I’m blessed!” Instead, maybe he’s just saying, “God has blessed me, and I’m grateful for it.” Well, even if that isn’t what the person means, perhaps I’m supposed to think it on their behalf.

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