What it means to 'bless the Lord'

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits. 
 
~ Psalm 103.1-2
 

“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.

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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.

For today’s readings, click here.

You can access the complete collection of the Advent 2015 Reflection Series here.

If you would like to receive these reflections via a daily e-mail, contact Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill at [email protected]

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Bruce Snowden
1 year 11 months ago
Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill answers very well in her Advent reflection her question, “How can we who have nothing, bless God who has everything?” But another reason comes to mind. We can thank God that as he created he used a “part of us” or perhaps “all of us.” Yes, He did use “all of us” every single one of us, our “nothingness. In this way God allowed us to contribute to his Divine creative genius, an evolving creation out of nothing, to all that is. How privileged we are to have nothing which In fact makes us part of everything! We are told, for God nothing is hard. What does that mean? For me it means that “nothingness” is substantive, something with which God could work, not inert for whatever God touches (and he touches everything) becomes useful, having potential. At least so it seems to me. May our benign, paradoxical God, be blessed! Or to put it another way, “Gesundheit!”

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