I recently heard someone speak rather derisively of people who express gratitude for their blessings. The thrust of the comment was that the very idea of "blessings" is an archaic, theological concept that has no place in the post-Enlightenment world.
While I have a wide tolerance for various theological points of view, I found myself somewhat puzzled by this comment because it seems to me that one can feel genuinely blessed and grateful without having a hardened position about the source of the blessings. Isn't life itself a blessing, life with all of its infinite possibilities? And what of the world of our inheritance—not the inevitable pain, frustration, and suffering—but love, beauty, music, art, the opportunity to become one of the co-creators of the world? Are not these abiding blessings? I believe they are, and I find that my heart sings in agreement when I read the following passage from John O'Donohue's fine essay, "To Retrieve the Lost Art of Blessing," which is found in O'Donohue's book, To Bless the Space Between Us.
There is a kindness that dwells deep down in things: it presides everywhere, often in the places we least expect. The world can be harsh and negative, but if we remain generous and patient, kindness inevitably reveals itself. Something deep in the human soul seems to depend on the presence of kindness; something instinctive in us expects it, and once we sense it we are able to trust and open ourselves . . .
Despite all the darkness, human hope is based on the instinct that at the deepest level of reality some intimate kindness holds sway. This is the heart of blessing. To believe in blessing is to believe that our being here, our very presence in the world, is itself the first gift, the primal blessing. As Rilke says: Heir zu sein ist so viel—to be here is immense. Nowhere does the silence of the infinite lean so intensely as around the form of a newly born infant. Once we arrive, we enter into the inheritance of everything that has preceded us; we become heirs to the world. To be born is to be chosen. To be created and come to birth is to be blessed. Some primal kindness chose us and brought us through the forest of dreaming until we could emerge into the clearance of individuality, with a path of life opening before us through the world.
The beginning often holds the clue to everything that follows. Given the nature of our beginning, it is no wonder that our hearts are imbued with longing for beauty, meaning, order, creativity, compassion, and love. We approach the world with this roster of longings and expect that in some way the world will respond and confirm our desire. Our longing knows it cannot force the fulfillment of its desire; yet it does instinctively expect that primal benevolence to respond to it. This is the threshold where blessing comes alive.
Einstein once suggested that the most important question a person can ask is whether the universe is a friendly place. The answer, I suppose, would probably vary from person to person, depending on whether one is an optimist, a pessimist, or a downright cynic. At the very least, however, I feel deeply that our lives enjoy the blessings of what John O'Donohue refers to as "primal kindness" or "primal benevolence." Each person is free, of course, to provide his or her own theological tag to that kindness and benevolence, but, as always, it's not the label of a thing, but rather its essence, that befriends the questing heart. We are the most improbable of creatures living on the most improbable of planets, and if we have nothing else, we always have the opportunity to transform ourselves and our world. That, for me, will always be a blessing worthy of my highest gratitude.