"God bless you!"
“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”
Allergy season is intense. The bright blooming trees of spring lure you out with beauty and warmth, and then the pollen just obliterates you with sneezing, coughing, and itchy eyes. It's like that deep sea fish with a light on its head to draw prey. I'm currently on my back patio writing, and I just sneezed on cue. It got me.
Ever wondered why, when someone sneezes, we say "God bless you" or "Gesundheit!" (only counts if said with a thick German accent)? What is it about a sneeze that is so bless-worthy? Does our theology hold that God is more eager to bless the sneezers than, for example, those with migraines? No one ever says "God bless you" if you say you've got a headache.
There are a variety of explanations across cultures, but at least one is rooted in history. During the 6th century, there were two horrible plagues that swept across the Roman Empire, killing almost half of the entire European population. For both the Justinian Plague and the Plague of 590, sneezing was an early sign of sickness. So if someone sneezed, everyone knew that person was at risk. In light of this, Pope Gregory I passed an edict in 600AD, requiring nearby sneeze witnesses to to respond with "God bless you" when they heard someone sneeze. The idea was that this person would need God's compassion and strength in the coming days, and perhaps the immediate prayers would be a source of supernatural healing.
And so it has continued and morphed through the years. These days it has lost most of its spiritual sentiment, but still offers a generic bit of kindness in our world.
Now, I'm not a proponent of edicts or forcing people to practice spiritual habits, but I am compelled by how a sneeze blessing still has the power to interrupt anything. Speeches, court hearings, concerts, whatever. If someone sneezes, a blessing can happen anytime, anywhere, and people welcome it.
Perhaps this is a model for us as people of Jesus, who have learned God's deep heart of compassion over and over again. What if throughout our day we were constantly noticing another person enough to ask God to bless them?
What if we were so in tune with the little struggles and risks that people face, that we were always asking God to lean in and keep them whole? And what if we verbally mentioned it to people a bit more often?
- "You're a great mom. I'm asking God to bless you with energy today!"
- "You have such a tough job. God bless you as you patiently keep working with angry clients."
- "You give a lot to others. I'm hoping God brings some deserved rest to you tonight!"
- "I noticed you've got allergies. I stand in solidarity with your suffering, and may God have mercy on us both..."
I want to be able to stop what I'm doing and offer a blessing at any given moment, in any possible way, for any number of reasons. Life continues to be difficult these days, and people continue to be run down and worn out. They each need compassion, wholeness, and hope from God. You do too. So does your neighbor. I believe Jesus offers those things. Let's keep aligning our hearts enough with Jesus until blessings pop out of our hearts and mouths all day long.
Jesus, bless the people I see today with your love, and help me to be an instrument of your blessing wherever possible.
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