For the month of June, we asked all of our writers to include a video in their post.
Let’s talk about blessings. Bless you, bless me, God bless us, everyone. Eighteen months ago the b-word lived only in the parlance of the spiritual, the sneezed-upon, and a certain brand of porch-sitting Southerner. Back then, perhaps 75% of the word’s usages took place immediately after—and in immediate proximity to—a sneeze. The other 25% could be understood as a leftover antebellum vernacular. Bless your heart.
But it’s been a big year for blessings. Earlier this year, Geneva Langeland blessed us with an etymology that traced the word from the 825 A.D Vespasian Psalter to February 9, 2016, from its origins as a bid for God’s favor to its 2016 present day application, almost exclusively on or in reference to social media in the awkward contextual space between self-aware irony, outright sincerity, and the humblebrag. Yachting down the Amalfi coast? #blessed. Took a selfie with your cat? #blessed. Diagnosed cancer-free? #blessed.
So widely and weirdly applicable, the hashtag took off in all directions before landing on the Snapchat account of its would-be figurehead: then-forgotten rapper DJ Khaled. #blessed became “bless up,” a fixture in Khaled’s stable of viral catchphrases. The word expanded in meaning. It became a greeting, a word of thanksgiving to the Almighty, or just a general expression of affirmation.
If the scaling of blessings had any concrete consequences, it’s that the blessings themselves became more concrete. On social media, blessings are things you can take pictures of. Things you can wink at with a hashtag. Blessings reached peak commodification when Khaled put of “Bless Up” flip flops (now sold out) on his online store. If only Moses had owned a pair, God might have left him keep his sandals on.
But the author of the Vespasian Psalter and his fellow blessing traditionalists needn’t despair. If blessings could jump the shark on the heels of one rapper, could they possibly be redeemed by another?
The answer is yes. Last month, Chicago-based artist Chance the Rapper released an album that includes two songs titled “Blessings.” Beyond the title of the two tracks, blessings are the albums central theme. Chance, or Lil Chano From 79th as his Twitter handle reads, raps about blessings—reconciliation, his daughter, achievement, communicating with a Triune deity—in this world and the next. “I know the difference in blessings and worldly possessions,” he sings.
In “Blessings,” the first of the two tracks, included below, Chance calls his steps “ordered.” The line is a direct reference to Psalm 37, just one of a nods Chance makes to the Psalms. Accompanied by Jamila Woods, the song is almost a chiasm: it opens and closes with the line “It seems like blessings keep falling in my lap.”
This contentment is reminiscent of Psalm 16. The lines have fallen unto Chance in pleasant places. He calls listeners to position themselves for the same contentment “Are you ready for your blessings?” he asks in the chorus. The line could be read as a Psalmic call to worship. Taking stock of past struggles, boasting in past victories, and pledging future praise, Chance borrows further from the Psalms in the rest of the text.
But the song’s most Psalmic quality is its steady belief in blessings to come. “Life ain’t matter” he sings, which could easily be mistaken for fatalist despair. Though that attitude might have its place in the Old Testament, it’s not what Chance is getting at in this song. “Life ain’t matter,” like Chance the Rapper’s music at its finest, is a reminder that in a world where the political, cultural, and economic forces are concentrated on the material, free things don’t mean freedom, and kings will give way to the Kingdom.