Some years ago I remember hearing a sermon at by Mr. G__ at NWBC called “how to drink orange juice to the glory of God.” Evan an hour afterward I couldn’t remember what all he had said, but I was left with an impression that we could sanctify all our activities through sheer force of sincerity and willpower. I thought that to be so unlikely that I never bothered trying (that happened a lot). Whether or not that was actually the impression Mr. G__ meant to leave with us – and it probably wasn’t – I’ve been struck by it many a time over the years, and do not believe it to be merely a product of my lack of understanding. By force of sincerity I can… give my entire life to God, celebrate every day like Easter and have no need of holidays, sanctify time, do good deeds in gratitude, and so on. My father and I have been puzzling about this for some time – there isn’t a handle to grasp at it with; I don’t have enough sincerity force to even attempt to make a start of these things. Well, the other day Fr. John was talking about “I-thou-ing,” and it came back a bit, including a handle. Being me, you could probably have guessed it would be a liturgical handle – in this case blessing as an active and identifiable thing.
There are prayers for blessing houses, water, fruit, bread, wine, oil, icons, meat, cheese, and other things as they come up. Our culture has a tendency to downplay how immensely incarnational Christianity is, but it’s still there all the same. God is redeeming all Creation, not only humanity, even if she also must eventually die and be resurrected. Now and then God emphasizes the point: we are baptized of water and the Spirit – real, wet water, if it can be had; bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood – preferably actually bread and wine, and not some other thing that seems more practical to us; we anoint the sick with oil – actual, not metaphorical oil; some of also have evergreen wreaths for Advent, shroud the statues in purple for Lent, draw crosses of ash on their foreheads, wave palm branches, throw bay leaves for Holy Saturday, basil on the Feast of the Cross, eat grapes for Ascention, bake bread with coins on St Basil’s day, and on and on. Evangelicals tend to be uncomfortable with all this – even when they can’t help physical substance, as with baptism and Communion, they are not flamboyantly incarnational. There are little plastic cups of grape juice, and bits of crackers; no possibility of sharing germs, but not much possibility of anything else either. Like sacramentality, for instance. American culture is accused of being too materialist, not in the philosophical sense of believing that there is no such thing as spirit, but rather because we place too much importance on material possessions. I can’t help but wonder if we’re materialist because we fail to be sacramental. To use older terms, are we a bit gnostic because we fail to rejoice in incarnation?
Lately Fr. John has been trying to teach us about having an “I-thou” relationship with both people and things. I think he means accepting things for what they are and rejoicing in that, rather than trying to change them into what we believe would be expedient for us. Like the bit in Peralandra where Ransom is in a cave, a massive insect like thing comes out, and after being initially terrified, he realizes that it has a whole existence that isn’t at all concerned with himself. Only Fr John suggested that ideally he should be able to appreciate that even if the critter was about to eat him (though not using that example). Indeed, he argued that as far as we are concerned nothing is really bad, because anything at all may becomes means of communion with God, if only we accept it as having been sent by Him.
Though I believe Mr. G__ way attempting to pick the most inglorious yet innocent thing he could think of, there doesn’t seem any very good reason why there shouldn’t be a Blessing of Orange Juice. Perhaps somewhere there is, just as in Greece there’s a Blessing of Grapes in August. And if we were really and with all our souls to consider the oranges blessed, I imagine we would try to refrain from spoiling them, or getting sick off of them, or complaining or forgetting about them. Because whether or not blessing something does anything to the thing itself (and I suppose that it does), at the very least it presents the thing as a gift fresh from God.