Blessing. It’s one of the words we use quite often, but hard to define. We say, “I feel blessed”, “God bless you”, “You are a blessing”, and “That was a blessing.” We say blessing before we eat. We sing blessing at the end of worship. We send those who embark on a new journey with a blessing. We give and receive blessing. We live in and through blessing but don’t always recognize it. Blessings acknowledge that there is a power greater than any of us, that we can rely on. Blessings carry a sense of warmth, belonging, protection and affirmation. Blessings come with a sense joy, happiness and inner peace.
Blessings imply that in our relationship with God we are always on the receiving end. (“God so loved the world” John 3:16) We need it every day. We just have to receive it with open hearts. They are available but not always recognizable. Sometimes blessings are hidden deep, and they require patience and practice for us to find them. We need reminders of God’s blessing, and they are everywhere. The sun, lakes, sky, trees, birds, breeze, a kind stranger, a welcoming neighbour. In fact, the whole creation not only reminds us of God’s blessing, but they are blessings to us. God blesses us to be a blessing. God is calling us to be part of the never ending circle of blessing.
The Beatitudes talk about how we can enter the circle. It is by receiving. Being poor in spirit, being sorrowful, hungry, humble, merciful and persecuted are never the condition for happiness or pleasure our world promises. They are, however, the perfect condition for receiving, and that is how we can join the never ending circle of blessing. Receiving must come first. We cannot receive unless we are in need. The need doesn’t have to be a painful experience. Rather, the need invites us to receive into the depths and centre of ourselves. That’s why Jesus said, “Unless you receive the kingdom of God like a little child….” We can only receive the gift of God, however abundant or life-giving it is, to the extent that we really need it. Only then the gift can touch us deeply.
I was in the public library when I was writing this reflection. Everyone was doing their own thing on a quiet afternoon. No one seemed to want to be disturbed or bother with anyone. Everyone seemed to keep reasonable distance from each other. It was a public space after all. Then something happened. A man near me was talking to someone on the phone. His voice was respectfully low and soft until it changed to unstoppable weeping and sobbing. The man on the phone cried in the middle of quiet afternoon in the public library. People nearby started packing their things and left their seats one by one. Whether their time was up or they wanted a quieter place, I don’t know. The man hang up the phone and bent his head down on the desk. A few minutes later he started packing his belongings. I went to him and sat in front of him. I asked if he was okay. He said, “My uncle died in Nigeria. He was very close to me.” He showed me a picture of his uncle on his phone. After a brief conversation, I asked if I could pray for him. Before I even finished my sentence, he put his hands on the desk wide open waiting to receive my hands. So, we prayed holding hands. There was still tears in his eyes, but his face was shining like the sun. We exchanged our names and phone numbers. His name is Lanre. We sent each other with a blessing. It was a beautiful afternoon.
I was writing about beatitude, but he showed me how to live it. The condition of Lanre – being sorrowful because he lost his beloved uncle in his faraway home – was indispensable for him to receive. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” His condition didn’t make him weak. Rather, it made him to be open to receive comfort. Lanre received it because he needed it. And he taught me what beatitude is. It is to receive the fullness of life.
The encounter brought me memories of those who comforted me when my brother was dying in my faraway home country. I was desperately in need of comfort. I received it from unexpected people in unexpected places like on the bus. Last week, I finally realized that I joined the never ending circle of blessing more than 10 years ago when I began to receive. I was needy, and that made me more receptive. Blessed are those who receive into the depth and center of themselves.