What is it to be blessed?
Henri Nouwen talks about it as being more than praise or appreciation. He describes blessing as saying “yes” to the Belovedness in the other.
“…to give a blessing creates the reality of which it speaks…. A blessing touches the original goodness of the other and calls forth his or her Belovedness.”
Now my good Calvinist instincts flinch at the words “original goodness.” I want to remind Henri about the doctrine of total depravity, the fall, original sin, and the marring of human nature. How like me to want to offer theological correction. Patience is required.
After all, Nouwen is not denying sinfulness and darkness. Indeed, he’s all too aware of it. Nouwen spends several pages talking about how the sense of being “cursed” is the dominant spirit of the age.
For sin to mar something, there must have been something good to mar. There had to be some original goodness from which humanity fell. There is some sense in which humans, as divine image bearers, still carry dignity. After all, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:14); we are made “a little lower than the angels” (Ps 8:5); we are clothed with “glory and honor” (Ps 8:5).
On the other side of the curse, on the other side of penitence and faith, is God’s blessing. In this blessing, God reminds us of our calling to the design for which He had made humanity.
Nouwen asserts that when we as humans bless one another, we but point to the deeper and greater blessing that God pronounces over His children. “The blessings that we give to each other are expressions of the blessing that rests on us from all eternity.”
That’s an astounding thought. The blessing you pronounce over someone, the gift you give them, or the service you render may be small and clumsy, but it reflects something deeper, richer and ultimately satisfying: the deep blessing of God almighty. Your blessing is an instrument in the hands of the God who blesses.
Nouwen commends the discipline of prayer and presence as a way of hearing the blessing of God. By prayer, Nouwen commends a quiet “listening to God”. Being still and knowing that God is there. Psalm 131 gives us a picture of this kind of prayer:
“My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.”
The image of the weaned child is potent. A child before weaning cries out to his mother because he needs milk, he needs nourishment, or he needs comfort. A weaned child, on the other hand has learned to feed from other foods. More importantly, a weaned child has learned to take comfort, not in the milk the mother provides, but in the presence of the mother.
In other words, the discipline of prayer that Nouwen talks about is the discipline of curling up in the lap of God (metaphorically speaking) and lingering in His embrace. It is the discipline of “wasting time” by simply sitting and being with God and enjoying his presence.
The other discipline that Nouwen commends in this chapter is that of “presence.” By this, he means paying attention to the present moment and attending to the blessings of God in it. Just as we should “let the day’s trouble be sufficient for the day,” so should we rest contentedly in the day’s blessing, letting it be sufficient for the day.
These disciplines of prayer and presence remind us of the deep blessing that God speaks over the lives of His children. This is well, because Nouwen talks next about being “broken,” and brokenness is a severe blessing.
Soli Deo Gloria