What's with all the "blessed" talk?
I titled my podcast Blessed are the Binary Breakers, and named my YouTube series on disability theology Disabled AND Blessed. It's a strange thing to me, for until just a couple years ago I have never been fond of talk about "blessing." When being blessed = being gifted, receiving some sort of special privilege or power from the Divine, it's not really my cup of tea. When people assume that it is "blessing" that allows billionaires to amass and hoard resources, or "blessing" that determines which countries can dominate and exploit others, or "blessing" that keeps some healthy and safe while others suffer...well. I am not fond of such blessing.
But I have learned another way of understanding blessing.
Those who join in the hard, holy work of calling attention to and tearing down life-limiting binaries truly are blessed – but not in the ways the world thinks of blessing. We are not always safe, or happy, or showered in pleasant things. We are frequently more empty than we are full, but unafraid of the loss that comes with demanding justice from an unjust world. No, for me, to proclaim "Blessed are the binary breakers" has little to do with gifts lavished and honestly, much more to do with spite. We are blessed – in spite of our struggling. We are blessed – in spite of the rejection we face. We are blessed – in spite of the roughness of the road we travel. And perhaps, in ways, because of all that.
From my Christian perspective – nestled at the feet of a Galilean hick proclaiming to a sea of impoverished, exploited people, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who grieve, who hunger, who thirst, who are tortured by a world that denies the blessing in them" – blessing comes to those we would assume least blessed! Those who are cursed by the world are blessed by Divinity – not because they necessarily "deserve" it more, but because they need it most, and because they are the ones who most desperately seek it.
"Who would stick around to wrestle a dark angel all night long if there were any chance of escape? The only answer I can think of is this: someone in deep need of blessing; someone willing to limp forever for the blessing that follows the wound."
- Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark
In the above passage, Taylor tells the story of Jacob in the wilderness, where he finds and wrestles a strange, numinous Being in the dead of night. He refuses to give up or give in to this stranger, even when his hip is wrenched from its socket – "Unless you bless me, I will not let you go!" (Genesis 32:26). And the Being gives him what he demands: Jacob first gets a wound, and then a new name (v. 28), and finally "the stranger blessed him there" (v. 29) – there in the wasteland, there in night's predawn glow.
But what exactly is the blessing Jacob receives? Is the wound and the limp his blessing? Is the new name, Israel? Or something else, undefinable? Or perhaps, all these things combined?
[image is of the painting "Jacob Wrestling with God" by Ruelson Bruce Lee. It is an abstract piece, a riot of oranges and blues -- the blues form Jacob, whose arms are wrapped around the strange being he wrestles, who is yellow and orange and has rays of light beaming from its head, which isn't visible with the way Jacob is holding it. One of its arms is reaching for Jacob's hip.]
When we come to see the wound as part of the blessing, it turns the world's notion of blessing on its head! We want to be blessed with riches and power, with safety and control; but Jacob's blessing comes with a wound, and a transformation so bone-deep he needs a new name.
When we look to the ones the world calls wounded, calls broken, calls cursed, will we also glimpse the blessing there?
Is there a blessing to be had in my disability? Is my transness, my queerness, holy?
These are the questions I explore here – and I ask that all who are willing will join me. I cannot go it alone; I need your insight, your stories, your questions and your corrections. We all are interdependent on one another – and to me, that is the strangest and most powerful blessing of all.