A Blessing or a Curse?
by Timothy J. Mooney
Vignette one: A woman was getting ready for a date when she heard a knock on her door. She answered the door with her hair standing on end from back-combing. She was surprised to see her date; he was very early. Embarrassed, she tried to make the best of the situation by smiling brightly and saying, “Well, what do you think?” He grinned and said gently, “It looks like something beautiful is about to happen.”
Vignette two: A woman came into the room with her hair in huge curlers. Her husband said, “What happened to your hair?” “I set it,” she said. He responded, “When does it go off?”
“From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.” (James 3:10)
These two little vignettes reflect two very different approaches to life: we either bless, or we curse. Which will we choose? The answer is obvious: we want to bless. But more often than we think, we choose to curse. This was brought home to me in a powerful way when I went to a David Wilcox concert in San Francisco 20 years ago. He’s such a thoughtful, heart-felt songwriter, and he introduced a song he’d just wrote, and said we would all relate to it. Let me play a bit of it for you. Now I do this with some trepidation because the song’s lyrics could be considered “insensitive” if not “uncalled for.” So please bear with me, and I’ll explain why I am playing part of this song for you.
Every morning, I commute, a mild-mannered-man in a business suit,
When I want to come home, at the end of my day, all these other cars are stacked up in my way.
I pull up behind one, pull out my pistol, and blow ‘em away.
Jesse James behind the wheel, high noon in my automobile.
You call me crazy, call me sick,
Well I’m just trying to get to where I’m going to quick.
When I’m driving in my car, I want to go fast, but there’s this slow car won’t let me past,
I flash my lights, I honk my horn, well – I have to consider him warned.
I pull up behind him, pull out my pistol, and blow ‘em away.
The response from all of us in the crowd that night was astonishing! We were roaring with laughter because David Wilcox revealed to us our inner thoughts, what we were really thinking about all these other people “stacked up in our way” on the freeways in the San Francisco Bay Area! All of us were silently or cursing aloud at all the people around us! And don’t tell me you haven’t experienced that frustration here in Denver as more people move in and the roads get more crowded!
We know what it’s like to curse out loud, or silently within our hearts. But our cursing does not end when we pull into the safety of our garages. On the highway of life, where each one of us commutes daily, when all these other people stack up in our way, block our path, cause us problems, and irritate us, we can easily turn to cursing. We pull out our metaphorical weapons and blast away – sharp words, hostile or cold attitudes, body language, sarcasm, silence, withdrawal of love. Most of the time we are not aware when it happens.
In the ancient world, words spoken aloud, and in the heart, had tangible, immediate results. The story of Jacob & Esau shows the power of words to create reality. Jacob tricked his blind father Isaac into giving him the blessing that should have gone to Esau. When Esau found out about it, he asked Isaac to give the blessing to him. But the blessing had been spoken, accomplished. It could not be revoked. A blessing, or a curse, once voiced, had a power all its own.
We seem to forget that our blessings and curses have powerful, long-lasting effects. This is surprising, too, when the therapeutic profession has demonstrated clearly, that messages communicated by word and attitude, create beautiful or disfigured souls. How many of us yearn to break free from the internal prison built by the words and attitudes of others? And how many of us give thanks to God for someone whose words of blessing changed our lives? Take a moment to think about the words that have blessed you, and the words that have cursed you.
I’m not only talking about the words that fall from our tongue. The intentions of our hearts come through, even though our words are pure sugar. Psalm 62:4 says, “They bless with their mouth, but inwardly they curse.” This is what’s known as a mixed message. A recent study found that most people “get” what others are saying according to the following breakdown: 7% from the actual words; 35% from the tone of voice; and 58% from body language. A blessing or a curse is not simply our words. We bless or curse with our attitude, intentions, and behaviors.
As a pastor and a spiritual director, I have talked with so many people, whose parents never cussed, drank, or missed church, but whose words, attitudes, and behaviors became the most difficult of curses for these people to get out from under. We must take care that not only our words, but our tone of voice, body language, attitude, and actions, are a blessing not a curse.
A curse can harm others. It can also harm us, the ones who utter and think a curse. A curse is a negative, judgmental, caustic attitude that remains with us. Several weeks ago, I walked to the Kaiser Medical offices on Franklin. I got to 18th and Franklin and waited at the stoplight. A woman pulled up on the other side of Franklin and was going to turn right onto one-way 18th. I figured she’d go when the light changed and I’d start walking across. Then a woman pulled up behind her. The light changed, the first woman went, and I started walking across but the other woman didn’t look at me at all and started to turn, and I stopped and suddenly she saw me, slams on the brakes and puts her hands up. I said WTF! And I said, “Use your eyes!” And she turned in front of me, and I was mad for another second or two and then I started laughing! I almost killed myself 3 months ago coming home from Rocky Mountain National Park, and now a woman almost killed me crossing the street! And I suddenly blessed her! “Bless you, bless you. I have no idea what you’re facing in your life, but I bless you!” Saying it out loud changed my attitude and I could feel it in my body. I really let it go! My curse wouldn’t help her, and I’m not sure that my blessing helped her either. But blessing her, did me a world of good. That negative energy was all gone! Our curses harm others, and they harm us. That’s why Jesus said to “Bless those who curse you,” and, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
In every situation you and I have a choice – to offer a blessing or a curse.
To bless or curse others has a powerful effect on them and us. But do we bless or curse ourselves? This might seem like an odd question, yet perhaps here is where we get to the heart of the matter. If we take Jesus seriously when he says, “Love your neighbor, as you love yourself,” then blessing others and ourselves go hand in hand.
Henri Nouwen, in his book Life of the Beloved, says we need to grab hold of God’s blessing, God’s affirmation, of who we are, and see ourselves as God sees us: “Claiming your own blessedness always leads to a deep desire to bless others. The characteristic of the blessed ones is that, wherever they go, they always speak words of blessing. It is remarkable how easy it is to bless others, to speak good things to and about them, when you yourself are in touch with your own blessedness. The blessed one always blesses.”
And this leads me to talk about what Matthew Fox called “Original Blessing” in contrast to the long-standing doctrine of “Original Sin.” Jesus, at his baptism heard these words: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” And then we see Jesus treating others as if they, too, were beloved sons and daughters of God. Baptism didn’t confer his status as the son of God, it celebrated it. It’s the same with us. Baptism doesn’t make us a son or daughter of God, it celebrates it. It declares this is who we have been from the very beginning.
“Claiming our own blessedness” can be difficult, especially for many who were raised in the church. It’s not easy to discern between the ways we curse ourselves (rooted in family upbringing, schooling, or insensitive friends), and the voice of God. They are not the same.* To say, “God loves me just as I am, therefore I can accept myself and love myself,” may feel selfish, or foolish even. But how often have we instead chosen to curse ourselves with words like, “I’m so stupid,” “I’m just a failure,” “I’m an idiot!” and think it’s the truth? And often it’s repeating words we were told a long time ago.
After saying, “Whoever is without sin cast the first stone,” Jesus asked the woman caught in adultery, “Where are your accusers?” There was no one to accuse; they had all slinked off. Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.” I can almost hear Jesus add the words, “So neither should you condemn yourself.” Jesus does not condemn us, so let us no longer curse ourselves.
Gerald May in his book The Awakened Heart tells the following story. We used to live next door to a grouchy old man. He put up a chain link fence when our children began to play in the backyard. We tried to make friends with him, but he would have none of it. He threatened to hurt my son Paul’s kitten after it strayed into his rose bushes. ‘I see that cat in my yard again, I’ll poison it,’ he said. Paul, who was four at the time, became obsessed with keeping the kitten inside. He’d wake up screaming at night. A few days later the kitten was dead. We saw it die, and we were sure it had been poisoned. While the rest of the family was grieving and making up fantasies about what we could do for revenge, Paul grew very quiet. Finally he had something to say about our neighbor. Paul remarked, “He must be very lonely. Maybe we should give him a birthday party or something.”
In every situation you and I have a choice – to offer a blessing or a curse. “When does it go off?” or, “I think something beautiful is about to happen.” When we pull out our metaphorical weapons we have a choice. Shoot curses, or shoot blessings; plan revenge, or plan a birthday party. How have you been cursing others, perhaps without even knowing? How have you been cursing yourself? How can you begin to bless? It makes the biggest difference which choice we make. And it begins with remembering who we are: blessed sons and daughters of God. Amen.