Today, we blessed our animals. But what does it really mean to bless something?
We said words of thanksgiving and words of hope.
Blessings, in the Bible are often like this.
They’re prayers to God that God fulfill what we hope for others.
But did you know that the word blessing in Hebrew is the same word for curse?
The same word, barak, means BOTH blessing and curse.
The only way you can know which one it is… is by context.
Susan MacKenzie commented to me that it depends on the tone of voice…
Think about “good for you…” Said one way or another.
But in the Bible, we don’t get the benefit of hearing the tone of voice.
It’s not clear.
We do, however, have examples of “blessings” that are both blessing-like as well as more curselike.
For example, when Jacob “blesses” his sons in Genesis 49, he blesses some of them with hope and wishes for great fortune.
To his son Judah, for example, he says
“Judah,You are the one whom your brothers shall praise;
Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s sons shall bow down to you”
He says to his son Asher – “May your food supply be rich and bountiful.”
On the other hand, his “blessing” of Reuben, his oldest son, feels more like a curse.
He says, “Reuben, you are my firstborn…And all of my strength and dignity SHOULD have been your birthright. But you are unstable and reckless. YOU will not succeed.”
Those are tough words coming from a parent.
And to me, they certainly sound more like a curse than a blessing.
So then looking at today’s text, what does our scripture mean when it says God BLESSED us, and gave us dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth?
Is it really a blessing? Or is it more of a curse? Or maybe both?
When it comes to caring for the creatures of the earth, it’s not entirely clear.
It certainly feels like God has blessed us with the creatures of the earth when a happy dog greets us at the door.
But perhaps it feels more like a curse when that same happy dog greets us with one of our shoes in its mouth.
It probably feels like a blessing for many of us when our cat snuggles up with us on the couch.
But perhaps it feels more like a curse when that same cat burrows into the couch.
It feels like a blessing when we hear the sweet music of songbirds.
And yet more like a curse when said songbirds take up residence in the tree above our parked car.
So what is God doing here?
What is God’s purpose and what was the author of Genesis’ purpose in saying that in the beginning, when human beings were created, God BLESSED us with the responsibility of caring for creation.
The Rabbi Yoel H. Kahn, the rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, California, has some insight here. He argues that determining whether something is a blessing or a curse has little to do with the outcome and more to do with the intention of the one blessing us.
In other words, if God intended to bless us with animals, even if they eat our shoes, what matters is the initial words and intention God had when God said to us, “Take care of the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.
Rabbi Khan writes,“The act of blessing is not dependent on the fulfillment of its words….Rather, the act of blessing is realized in the moment itself. The blessing is the act of giving, the connection that is created, and the faith and caring that are expressed in the words and gestures.
The experience of receiving a blessing–the experience of hearing and seeing the focused, spiritual attention….can be [in itself] a source of sustenance, faith, and meaning.
In blessing, we concretize both what we yearn for…and we affirm our deepest links and connections, between one another and with the Source of All.”
I love what the rabbi says, because for me, at the heart of this blessing that God offers us at the dawn of time, is a moment of connection.
God is offering us, offering humanity, the opportunity to be a part of God’s creative process.
And perhaps, as the rabbi said, the RESULTS of our blessing creation, while important, are not nearly as important as our intentions and our orientation–either toward God and connection and love or toward hatred and revenge.
Whether this responsibility of caring for creation is a blessing or a curese is ultimately up to US.
WE, as people created in God’s divine image, and as partners in God’s creation, we have the opportunity to in turn bless or curse those in our lives, the people as well as the animals.
God has given us free will and responsibility. God has given us authority even, to use our words and deeds to impact others.
And we have a choice.
We can use our words and actions to cures others.
We all know that words ARE capable of inflicting pain. They’re also capable of bringing joy and laughter and healing and transformation.
So my challenge to us this week is to be mindful. Be mindful of whether are actions are intended to bless or curse others.
May we take our responsibility seriously as co-creators with God!