“God bless you!” We say it automatically, to friend and stranger, rarely pausing to consider that we no longer subscribe to ancient beliefs about sneezes (such as that evil spirits enter the body in the vacuum caused by the sneeze). Superstition aside, we know what we mean, roughly, when we bless a sneezer. But what does it mean for us to bless the LORD, as today’s Psalm instructs? How can we, who have nothing, bless the God who has everything?
We render to him the only thing we have: our whole-hearted gratitude for God’s blessings, which the psalmist enumerates abundantly elsewhere in this exuberant poem. “Bless the LORD,” he sings, and again, “bless the LORD.” Being human himself, our Hebrew poet recognizes our tendency to forget God’s many “benefits,” as we let the daily anxieties of work and love clutch our hearts. On the good days it’s easy to give thanks for the small triumphs, the moments of true connection, the longed-for recognition of our hard work. But we don’t always have good days. And there are real impediments to gratitude: the nagging health problem, the wounded relationship on the verge of rupture, the insatiable grief of losing someone we love.
But sorrows and difficulties have their place in our lives, and also in the prayers we offer to God. The psalmist does not say that we should bless the LORD only with smiling faces and happy hearts; no, he calls us to muster “all that is within us,” our innermost suffering as well as our joy, and turn it all into a song of praise.
LORD, Make me ever mindful of my many blessings and thankful for the greatest benefit of all: your love for me. Amen.
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