When I was in my early twenties, I read a collection of short stories by Graham Greene. More than thirty years ago. One line from one story spoken by one character, a French bishop, is virtually all that remains in my memory of that book, and I think of that one line whenever I see or hear the words bless or blessed. The line itself has been worn down to the gist, a stub; I remember it as “You only bless what you cannot love.” But because we are #blessed with the magic of the Internet, cyborg memory provides the actual quote:
You don’t bless what you love…It’s when you want to love and you can’t manage it. You stretch out your hands and you say God forgive me that I can’t love but bless this thing anyway…We have to bless what we hate…It would be better to love, but that’s not always possible.
According to the New York Times, #blessed has become a popular hashtag on parasocial media like Twitter and Facebook. Graham Greene is an almost forgotten writer, perhaps because we are all so #blessed these days. I’ve certainly forgotten most of him, though I read the stories and several of his novels, but a residue remains, more a remembered flavor than any plot or character, though it consists mostly of the movie featuring Orson Welles as Harry Lime, based on Greene’s novel, The Third Man, and you only bless what you cannot love.
Calling oneself blessed seems like hubris to me, and calling down blessings on yourself or others downright dangerous, if one actually believes in God. Maybe it’s my Aztec Baptist upbringing. Advertising one’s blessededness certainly isn’t blessed, at least not according to the Matthew 6:5:
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
Consulting cyborg memory again, I find the root meaning of bless is to mark with blood:
The modern English language term bless likely derives from the 1225 term blessen, which developed from the Old English blǣdsian (preserved in the Northumbrian dialect around 950 AD). The term also appears in other forms, such as blēdsian (before 830), blētsian from around 725 and blesian from around 1000, all meaning to make sacred or holy by a sacrificial custom in the Anglo-Saxon pagan period, originating in Germanic paganism; to mark with blood. Due to this, the term is related to the term blōd, meaning blood. References to this indigenous practice, Blót, exist in related Icelandic sources.
By the way, the tombstone pictured belongs to someone named Hixon, the burying ground in which it is found is the Hamer family cemetery, within the bounds of Spring Mill State Park, south of Blomington, Indiana. Many of the old markers had blocks like little step pyramids neatly piled against the reverse sides, I presume intended to prop them up straight and true. I’ve never seen that in any other graveyard.
Come, ye blessed.