I’ve been getting a few strange looks lately. This is nothing new, really, I think the world has always seen me as a little off-kilter (when I came home from living in Belgium, I was in the habit of kissing male friends on the cheek instead of shaking their hand).
Lately, though, I think I’ve been making the people I meet in my daily travels a little uncomfortable. Although I’ve always tried to see the image of God in everyone that I meet (see my previous blog post on Greeting the Image of God in One Another), I find that sometimes I need to pinch myself as a reminder that God has a plan for each and every one of us in His Creation. So lately, when parting ways with someone, I try to say “God bless,” instead of “Goodbye,” or “See you later.”
Family, friends and colleagues have hardly batted an eye at this new expression that I’ve added to my vocabulary. Some of them are probably surprised that I didn’t start saying “God bless” sooner. They know me, and they know that I’m on a never ending quest to not only make God the centre of my life, but the centre of everybody else’s life as well (or at least plant the seed of Christ in their hearts). When parting ways with family and friends with a “God bless”, I am increasingly being met with a “God bless you too.”
It’s the strangers in my world that seem to be a bit taken aback by the words “God bless.” Whether it’s at the check-out counter at the grocery, hardware or convenience store (or bus, or restaurant, or wherever else I happen to have a short conversation with someone); once I receive my change and we are parting ways, I’ll say, “God bless.” These two little words and a brief moment of eye contact are usually followed by a blank stare and an awkward silence. After this momentary hiccup, some will smile back, while others will simply turn away to the next person in line.
In many ways, I understand this discomfort when confronted with the words God bless. Western society has trained us not to talk about God. Since everything in the world today has become relative, it comes as no surprise that God has become relative too, and He is something (not even someone) reserved for our private lives, not to be mentioned in public. Yet, there seems to be a strange comfort that comes across the faces of the people I meet when His name is spoken; like we’ve shared a great secret that shouldn’t be talked about in the open, but we wish we could. With the others, those who look confused, scared or indifferent; at least I know I have planted a seed with them, and with time and proper nurturing, hopefully this seed will grow into something great.
The other little expression that I have that raises eyebrows until people get used to it is “God willing.” As I leave school at the end of the day, invariably someone will say, “See you tomorrow,” to which I always answer, “God willing.” I think it’s a bit of a culture shock for most to openly admit that, like everything else, our comings and goings are dependent upon God, even the more devout Catholic teachers that I work with found this troubling at first. Especially when we are younger (which seems to be 80 and under these days), we all assume that we will be back at work tomorrow, that we hold our destinies in our own hands, and that it’s the decisions we make that bring us back. Truly, however, God has a plan for us, and if that plan does not involve work tomorrow, then we will not be there. One of the best laughs I’ve ever had at school was upon arriving one morning and a colleague looked me straight in the eye and said, “I guess God wanted you back here today too.”
A final thought on the words we use when we take leave of one another; my Portuguese father-in-law refuses to say “Adeus” (Adieu or Adios) when saying goodbye, he would much rather say, “See you later.” For my father-in-law, saying Adeus means that the next time we’re together, it will be in the presence of God and not on this earth; something he’s not ready for yet.
I do fervently hope, though, to one day be in the presence of God with my father-in-law, my wife, son, the rest of my family and all those who are created in His image.