I was called to a house for a pastoral visit not long ago. No need to go into detail; suffice it to say that they were not members of my parish, nor any other as it turned out. My usual practice on the way is to say a prayer asking God’s presence to be with me in body, mind and voice. After I enter, I follow with a silent prayer for God’s presence in the house itself. Then the visit begins.
This time I felt that a barrier was in place that simply would not let God in no matter what. True enough, the family on whom I was asked to call had no religious tradition of any kind whatsoever, but that is often the case and it doesn’t seem to keep God out. All went well for a few minutes, at least until the head of the household broke down in a rage of anger and regret over the situation he was facing, God damning everything in sight, including himself. It took a long time for him to calm down. I learned from other members of the household that this was his usual way of reacting to just about anything that disturbed his equilibrium. God was routinely invoked to damn everything for any reason at any time. Otherwise, God was ignored.
Can a person who has chosen to ignore God in every way except to invoke God’s damnation on himself, and everything around him, whenever his world has been rattled, actually create a barrier to God’s presence in love, healing and blessing? Here I think Mark’s version of Jesus cursing the fig tree is instructive. You recall that he and his disciples saw that the tree bore no fruit because it was not the season for figs. Just the same, he cursed it. Passing that way again later in the day, they saw that the tree had died. It’s a cruel story. Why would Jesus curse a tree for not doing what it could not do? How about considering it a startling object lesson for his disciples and for us? We offer blessings, and prayers for blessings, expecting blessed results. Why should we be surprised that offering curses, and prayers for curses, especially in God’s name, beget cursed results?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think God has much interest in fulfilling prayers for curses, especially from those who have chosen to ignore and be ignorant of God in every other way. But I do think that a person who characteristically confronts life by God damning it is likely to reap a harvest of his or her own making, accompanied by a palpable absence of God’s presence.
Language is important. Words have power. With or without God, they can bless and curse.