Monday, July 14, 2008

God bless

“Why do you write ‘God bless’ when he does not believe in God?"

It was a simple, genuine question, which I answered automatically before realising that I had said more than I realised. “Well, he might not believe in God, but I do and I have worked with so many people, especially Asians, who really understand and appreciate receiving a blessing. They do not have to be Catholics, but they know what is meant by a blessing.”

A few nights ago, experiencing Internet difficulties, I rang British Telecom and discovered that my call had been automatically forwarded to a centre in Delhi. Fortunately, it was a free call on both occasions, because sorting out the problem took some time.

On the first evening, I have no idea what religion my youthful helper professed. I only know that he seemed not to be a Christian. The help on the second evening came from a Sikh. Whilst they accessed my computer from the other side of the world, we chatted amicably. It proved to be a pleasant interlude that I appreciated, and think that they did too. I ended the conversation with my customary “God bless” and was genuinely touched by their surprise and appreciation… but then India has an ancient and deep spirituality that all of its religions treasure. Its people understand a blessing.

When living in Africa, it was easy to speak of God. Regardless of a person’s status, it could be presumed that he or she believed in God. The now emeritus Cardinal of Mozambique, when he was a newly appointed bishop, once remarked to me in a conversation at a friary garden party that ’to be an African is to believe in God’.

So, if most of the world believes in God why is there sometimes a reluctance to speak of him? Are not atheists and agnostics actually in the minority? Is there a tinge of political correctness if we hesitate to speak of the One who is the reason for our existence? Is it that we do not want to impose religious belief on one who does not believe? Do we think it unlikely that an atheist or agnostic’s response might be one of understanding that whether or not God exists, we wish them well…and if he does, then may they be blessed?

Personally, even if someone drives me mad, I think it is good to be able to say “God bless”. As we hear, ‘A kind word turns away hard words’. It is hard to verbally lash out at a person when, moments later, there will be a blessing on its way to heal any hurt.

My father once remarked that, as a father, he had the authority to confer a blessing on the family. “Every night when you go to bed, I bless each one of you.”

If we each blessed a few people each day, would the world not be a better place?

God bless,
Sr. Janet