A voicemail greeting I heard recently ended with, “Have a blessed day.” I found myself feeling both comforted and uncomfortable: comforted because of the well wishes, and uncomfortable because of the words’ challenge to my religious beliefs. What does it even mean to have a blessed day? Is “blessed” just one of those words that means “good” or “great”? Or is it strictly religious? In the case of this particular voicemail greeting, I know it’s religious, because I know that the woman saying it is a fundamentalist Christian.
As a Catholic growing up, I saw blessings thrown around like confetti at a parade. At Mass (for me, six days a week), chances are you’d have been blessed at least a few times. At Confession (in my case, every week), we would recite, “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession.” Nearest I could figure, imparting a blessing onto someone meant giving them a shot of the Holy Spirit. Or at least making the thing being blessed a little holier.
Holy water was water that had been blessed. Reminds me of the scene in the movie The Exorcist when the priest sprinkles tap water on the possessed girl and she reacts as though the water were blessed. Holy water was somehow very special.
But I was getting blessed a LOT and I wasn’t getting any holier. Far from it. Receiving so many blessings just served to remind me of how sinful I was, and only made me feel guiltier. They could have dumped me into a bath of holy water and it wouldn’t have washed my soul clean of the sinfulness I felt in that Church.
The superlative adjective describing your day depends on the culture of the well-wisher. An entrepreneur might say, “Have a profitable day.” A sailor might say, “May the wind be at your back.” A fellow teacher will often say, “Have a good class.” So it’s not so strange that a Christian would say, “Have a blessed day.” But what does it mean?
The power to bless is reserved to God and to the religious hierarchy. In the Catholic Church, the priest has the power to bless, and above him the bishop and so on. It is presumptuous for a mere mortal such as myself to believe that I can bless anything. Except possibly when someone sneezes and you say, “Bless you.” Why not just say, “May God bless your day!”, since all blessings must ultimately come from God anyway?
To bless means to make holy. But to have a “blessed day”? Does that mean that the day will be holy? Or does it mean that, because of God’s influence, the day will be extra special, unlike any day before or since? Do we demean God’s blessing by wishing it upon every day?
I’m not trying to be disrespectful. Really! I’m just trying to get at the truth. And I don’t wish to appear ungrateful for someone’s wish for me to have a blessed day. I’m sure that her wish is sincere. But would she wish me a blessed day if she knew that I’m an atheist? Would her language or attitude toward me change? Would an entrepreneur wish you a profitable day if he knew that you don’t believe in or value Profit?
Maybe but I doubt it. The entrepreneur would recoil in horror, unable to believe that someone doesn’t believe as he believes. And after a perfunctory attempt to convince the other person of his error, the entrepreneur would wander off, probably never to talk to that person again.