I recently saw a video of talk-show host James Corden interviewing comedian Ellen DeGeneres. Corden – who is British – was telling DeGeneres how much he loved the South because people are so nice. Corden related a story to Ellen – who, by the way, was born and raised in Louisiana – about how he was having trouble parallel parking his car while in some southern city and a woman approached his window and asked if he was okay.
He told the woman, “Yes, I’m just having a little trouble parking.”
He said the woman shook her head, patted him on the arm, smiled and said, “Well, bless your heart.”
Corden proceeded to gush about how nice this woman was to bless his heart as he struggled to park. Ellen chuckled for a moment before breaking the news to Corden, “You know that’s actually an insult.”
Corden was aghast at this news. He was crestfallen to learn that instead of offering a true blessing, the woman had been condescending to him.
Linguist Joan Hall, the editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English, says that the earliest usage of “bless your heart” as an insult appeared in print in Henry Fielding’s 1732 play The Miser. In it, a butler says of a new mistress who’s bought beer for the domestic staff, “Bless her heart! Good lady! I wish she had a better bridegroom.”
Just as our Southern use of “bless your heart” illustrates, we often use the language of blessing to subtly, or sometimes overtly, curse others. A Course in Miracles, in the Song of Prayer supplement, introduces the idea of forgiving to destroy – which is like our “bless your heart” curse. We often use the act of blessing as a tool to feel superior, because we see someone who obviously is lacking in something and they need us, as a their better in some way, to bless them.
Of course, this is not the only way we stray from the true meaning of blessing. We tend to confuse blessing with things of this world. People say all the time that they are blessed, not so much because they feel a sense of peace and joy arising naturally from within, but because they have a lot of stuff. We often feel blessed by what we possess, whether it’s a house, a car, a high-paying job, or a relationship. We feel blessed when we climb the social, corporate, and political ladder. We feel blessed when we get the recognition of others or have power over others. Whatever material gain we feel we have; we see it as a blessing, mainly because we perceive that we have more than someone else.
This misuse of blessing is often at the heart of both political and spiritual divisions. In both worlds, the poor in material things become objects of pity. Politicians see them as lazy, or too stupid to know how to game the political, social, or business systems of the world to get ahead. The spiritual people tend to see them as a cautionary tale. Obviously, those in poverty are not blessed, and they must have committed some manner of sin to remain in their lowly state. Or, they simply don’t have enough faith. Or, they haven’t given enough money to the church to show God they are worthy of all those rich, earthly blessings.
What a strange idea we have of blessings: seeing them as something we must earn through spiritual, political, or business achievement. It’s not strange to the ego, though, because it sees blessing in just this way – as something you earn, and something you can either give or withhold if you feel the other person is or is not deserving of it. For those not deserving, we simply say, “bless your heart,” and count ourselves as blessed that we are not them.
Here’s the thing, though: we are them. They are us. Unity is our reality, and because it is our reality, we must learn to truly bless and identify those areas where we are using blessing to condemn. All minds are joined, and we can choose to create on either the level of ego, or the level of spirit.
In the ego world, the thoughts we share with one another are insane. We share thoughts of attack and hatred that result in separation. We share our fearful thoughts that we are somehow different from others based on outward things such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, political affiliation, or religious beliefs.
Those shared insane thoughts grow to produce this insane world of suffering and despair. Sure, there are pockets of joy in the world, but they do not seem to last.
Seeing blessing differently
Here’s the key then – we must learn to see the world differently, to see the Reality beyond the insanity. We must come to an understanding that on that fundamental level of spirit we are blessed, and if we are blessed, the so is everyone else. We must look out onto the world and see it as blessed, lovely, joyous even.
How can we do that, though, when all we perceive with these human eyeballs is suffering? We do it by realizing that life is but a dream, and as a dream, we have the power to remake it, to shift what is happening out here by first shifting what is happening within ourselves. If we live in a world of suffering and despair within that is all we will project onto the world. God asks us to see differently, not to deny the suffering of the world, but to see it as a call for us to become a channel of blessing, to accept our role as the light of the world.
This sounds namby-pamby and woo woo – but make no mistake: this is important work. It is the very work we were sent here to do. The fate of the entire world rests on each of us developing the ability to truly bless others. We can do that only when we realize the true blessing that we already possess since we are created out of pure Love itself.
Enlightenment isn’t something we work hard to attain. It’s simply a recognition of the truth about ourselves – we were made from blessing to be a blessing. We were made to extend only the true idea of love into the world.
That means we must give up grievance and attack in all its forms. We must stop saying “bless your heart” as a curse, and instead infuse that phrase with the true meaning of blessing – which is simply the act of giving – or extending – God’s love to the world in everything we say, do, think, feel, or believe.
Love has not yet overcome the fear of this world because we do not yet believe in its ultimate power. That power grows not by wishing for it, but by sharing it with everyone we see, think about, or hear about. This is why blessing is ultimately about being of service in the world. This, too, is an idea that frightens us. We believe that being of service means that we must sacrifice something of ourselves.
It means that we must forsake our needs for the needs of others. We talk about being burned out by service – we give and give until we are physically spent and pull away from the world. This is because we have this idea that service equals some sort of selflessness that the ego equates with physical exhaustion. No one is asked to sacrifice anything to serve and bless others.
The ego is right that service requires selflessness, but the self we’re asked to turn away from is the ego itself. That’s why it convinces us that we’ll sacrifice something because it knows IT is what must go and fights that tooth and nail. When, however, we bless and serve without our ego – and lead with the higher divine Self – exhaustion isn’t possible because we are channeling an infinite, bottomless, tireless source of Love and Energy. If anything, this brings us more power, more satisfaction, more joy to spread into the world.
Giving up our oughts and shoulds
How is that possible? Well, when you give up your oughts and shoulds – such as I ought to be serving and I should be blessing – and lean into the truth about yourself, that eternity within you has limitless service and blessings to give – then you find that you will effortlessly serve and bless in every moment of your life. When you realize that you are love, you are blessing, and you are service, all that will emerge from your life will extend love, be a blessing, and provide service to anyone and everyone you meet.
How do we step into that egoic selflessness into the higher Divine Self-fullness that’s required to be a blessing in this world? A Course in Miracles tells us that we must realize we are Originally Blessed, and that blessing is our natural state of being. We come to realize that by giving up all thoughts of attack.
I hear you saying, “Well, I don’t go around attacking people.” And that’s a good thing, of course.
While, though, none of us are going out and physically attacking anyone, we are attacking them in our heart and mind on a regular basis. Whenever we criticize someone – for the smallest thing – we attack them. Whenever we think that someone is wrong and must change their ways to align with our beliefs and actions and think them stupid if they don’t, we attack them. Whenever we look out onto this world and perceive another human being as being different from us – either better or not as worthy as we are – we attack them.
We do this all the time. We judge people by how they look, how they drive, how they stand in the aisle at the grocery store, how they speak, how they vote, or how they treat others. Any moment of judgment of another that does not perceive them as wholly innocent and good on the level of their eternal spirit, is an attack. Likewise, any moment we turn that judgment inward on ourselves is also an attack, not just on ourselves, but the whole world, since there really is only one Spirit here, having disparate experiences.
Giving up attack immediately results in blessings, as A Course says in Chapter 27: “A dying world asks only that you rest an instant from attack upon yourself, that it be healed. Come to the holy instant and be healed, for nothing that is there received is left behind on your returning to the world. And being blessed, you will bring blessing.”
The Holy instant is any moment that you relinquish attack, because that’s the moment you become a blessing and can truly be of service to others.
As A Course says: “Life is given you to give the dying world, and suffering eyes no longer will accuse, but shine in thanks to you who blessing gave. The holy instant’s radiance will light your eyes, and give them sight to see beyond all suffering and see Christ’s face instead. Healing replaces suffering. Who looks on one cannot perceive the other, for they cannot both be there. And what you see the world will witness, and will witness to.”
This is how we heal ourselves and the world – by recognizing our own original blessing, giving up our penchant to judge, attack, and fear others, and allow our mere presence in the world serve as a healing blessing.
As Sikh author Tara Singh writes: “The life of service offers us the possibility to live by holy relationship in a distracted world that knows not what to do. It is an invitation to step out of meaningless existence and walk with God . . . the life of service offers the sanity of a living gratefulness.”
Stepping out of a meaningless existence
Those disciples who left Jerusalem and were walking to Emmaus after the crucifixion of Jesus found themselves thrust into a “meaningless existence,” but on that journey, they were unaware that they were already walking with God. They met a stranger on the way, and they told him about Jesus and what had happened.
The stranger, of course, was Jesus, but the story goes that they did not recognize him until later when they were at supper together. When Jesus blessed and broke the bread – in short, when Jesus performed an act of service to them – their eyes were opened and realized that the Holy was among them.
This is what it means to bless, to bring the Holy into every situation through an act of service. Something as simple as opening a door for a stranger, smiling at them, appreciating them in some way and looking deeper for that eternal innocence beyond their bodily appearance, reveals the Holy that exists within every present moment. That’s what the Holy Instant is – that recognition of the Holy that is always in our midst, just waiting to be recognized.
If we can understand blessing in this way – that it is an act of service meant to reveal the infinite, eternal Holy Love that exists in each moment no matter what the circumstances may seem like – then we can see that there is no fear or sacrifice involved in blessing. It is simply the act of always choosing the most loving thing to do that brings about a genuine act of healing and service to another at any given moment.
This takes practice, of course, but it is an invitation to return to the pure innocence of someone like James Corden, who had no idea the lady who he felt blessed him was really trying to curse him. I feel some sympathy for Corden, because, before Ellen broke the news to him, he had basked in that innocent belief that the woman really meant to bless him.
I say we reclaim our inner, innocent James Corden in this moment and every moment that follows and see others as only out to bless us and to be blessed by us. This is known as assuming positive intent, or what A Course calls a “positive use of denial.” Instead of perceiving, “bless your heart” as a curse, let us deny the ego’s intent to curse and take it as the Holy intends it – as a way to enter the Holy Instant of love that transforms all intended insults into a blessing.
I invite you this week to use that phrase with everyone you meet – maybe not out loud, especially if you are in the South – but seek to truly bless the heart of everyone you encounter, whether it’s through a physical act of service or in your thoughts.
This is the way we come into the holy instant and are healed of our own penchant for attack and grievance. And in that healing, we come back into the world as healers. And in being blessed we can truly bless the hearts of everyone, and that will make the whole world say: Oh, Yeah!
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.