At this time of year, we count our blessings (along with calories, credit card points and the number of holiday shoppers ahead of us in line).
In our reckoning, we include what many lack, and what we so often take for granted — family, friends, employment, health, shelter, food, freedom. Such spiritual arithmetic is proper, of course. But it doesn’t fully add up.
That’s because blessings are much more than the sum of the good things we can tally in our lives.
According to the late Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock in the “Star Trek” franchise, blessings can be breathtakingly — and beautifully — dangerous.
As a child, Nimoy witnessed a profound display of the power of divine blessing. Raised as an Orthodox Jew, Nimoy was at a synagogue service during which several men stood before the congregation, covered their heads with their prayer shawls and intoned the priestly blessing from Numbers 6:24-26:
The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!
The chanting grew louder and more intense, and Nimoy sensed that “something major was happening here.” His father cautioned him to keep his eyes closed, but the future actor’s curiosity prevailed.
Stealing a glance, he saw the men who were leading the prayer facing all directions, with their hands extended beneath their prayer shawls, fingers splayed in the shape of a “V” — recalling the Hebrew letter shin and the word Shaddai, a name for God.
Nimoy was transfixed. He later learned that this prayer was meant to draw down the divine presence upon the congregation, and that the worshippers closed their eyes because of the blinding glory of the Lord.
Remembering that ancient gesture, Nimoy suggested its use as a greeting among Vulcans in a 1967 episode of the “Star Trek” series, accompanied by the phrase “live long and prosper.” Within days, he was being hailed on the street by enthusiastic fans with splayed fingers.
And just as this sign of peace unites Vulcans and science fiction fans, the very nature of blessing is rooted not in things, but in relationship.
The Lord himself is the source of, and reason for, all that is good: “There is one God, the Father, from whom all things are and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6).
“Blessing is God’s to give,” observes Ephraim Radner, a historian and theologian.
Having created the world, God blessed it, affirming its goodness and imparting to it fruitfulness: “God blessed them, saying: Be fertile, multiply …” (Genesis 1:22, 28).
“Blessing is life created by and from God, a life that gives life and extends life,” Radner notes.
In bestowing such an unfathomable gift on his creatures, God graciously displays “a profound and almost disturbing paradox of love,” Radner adds.
In fact, some scholars believe that the Hebrew verb “to bless,” barak, may be related to a similar word for “kneel.” Through blessing, God “comes down” to meet us where we are — conferring his most precious gift upon us in his Son, who “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
But if God is the origin of all blessing, and if in blessing he bends down to reach his humble creatures, how can we join with the psalmist in saying “bless the Lord, my soul” (Psalm 103:1)?
Quite easily, if we view blessing as “a kind of extended act of the original divine blessing,” Radner says. “To utter a blessing of God is to define our relationship with God rightly. It is from this that all the ‘blessings’ flow that human beings in fact give.”
When we realize that our very breath is a gift from God, in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and when we understand that we have been endowed with “the inscrutable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8), the act of “counting our blessings” becomes much more than listing the creature comforts we enjoy.
With eyes blinded by glory, we can see more clearly the overwhelming generosity of God, the incalculable debt of gratitude that is ours and the need to share freely with others all that we have received from the Lord.
This Thanksgiving, may we “live long and prosper” — and blessed be God forever.
Gina Christian is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.