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I once recommended the Rudy Anaya classic, Bless Me Ultima, to a friend who considers the entire Southwest her home. She also happens to be an atheist. She quickly said, "Oh, I don't read anything with the word bless in the title." I was taken aback, but on reflection, knowing her, I wasn't surprised, either. I wanted to think, "How narrow!" But I remembered an incident she shares early on with new acquaintances––a painful Christian-school experience of tectonic-shift proportions, something that happened when she was six. I was able to feel compassion instead of judgment. And of course, I have my own blind spots.
In fact, one of my aversions is to the necessity for blood sacrifice in Christian theology, emphasized by some denominations and certain people more than others. There came a Sunday in the church I'd newly joined, when I was asked to serve communion––a ritual I find very meaningful. For me, it signifies, not blood, but nurture and community. I was thrilled to be asked to offer this spiritual nourishment to the people who had loved me back into church. Moreover, this church does not overly emphasize blood.
Before the service, those of us who were going to serve were given a little orientation, because Presbyterians are known for orderliness. Our mini-class involved determining who would stand where, who would hold the bread, and who offer the juice; the handing out of stoles of the correct liturgical color; and finally, we were told what we would say as people came to receive their bread and juice.
The instructor advised, "The Bread of Life for you," and "Christ's blood shed for you." I said, "Sometimes in the church I grew up in," which was actually a bloodier church than this one, "it was said, 'The cup of blessing."
"Oh, I like that!" one of the servers said.
From her response and no one objecting, I thought it would probably be all right to say, "The cup of blessing." But I chose to serve bread because saying, "The Bread of Life for you," didn't require me to make a decision.
"The cup of blessing" suggests a pouring out of goodness, richness, and fullness over us. But the word blessing doesn't quite allow me get away from the blood of it, since it comes from Old English, which in turn came from the proto-Germanic blodison, meaning to hallow with blood, and in the beginning—big surprise—denoted a blood sprinkling on pagan altars. So neither my friend's blind spot about Christian blessing nor my aversion to blood in Christian theology get a pass. What we might both find easier to embrace is how the meaning shifted while still in use in the Old English. It became, not "to hallow with blood" but, "to make happy, prosperous, or fortunate." The cup of blessing.
The word blessing is brought to you by yours truly and by my friend, who shall go nameless.

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