“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8)
What is purity of heart?
What does it mean to see God?
How the hell does one go about being pure of heart in order to see God?
When pondering the imponderable mystery of pure hearts, my mind drawn to the purity of very young children. I thought of the radical openness of their little hearts as they explore the world around them. I recalled how they can wrap their stubby little arms around brown or beige, stooped or straight, smooth or wrinkled, thick or thin necks as long as their hearts perceive a neck sitting atop a kind and gentle heart. I recall all the generous given smiles and baby’s breath hugs my girl could bestow upon every person who crossed her path. I remember the spark of joy jumping from her soul into the hearts of others as she laughed and played the sweet games of childhood. I remember a 5 year old openly mourning a fallen tree when she realized it was destined for the chipper. “Won’t it hurt her?” she asked with puddled eyes. I can also recall the genuine confusion and sincere pain in her eyes the first time a playground bully uttered ugly words of disdain for an autistic friend.
While still small, our hearts have not been cluttered with the debris, that over a lifetime, looks like the kitchen junk-drawer jammed with 5, 10, 20 years of the things we should have cast off but could not let go. My own drawer is stuffed with little wounds that the world crammed in my heart like so many useless receipts. Doubt and anxiety that have accumulated like a dozen chewed up pencils. At the bottom of that drawer are even the cracked and worthless sunglasses with lenses that were socially engineered to see the world in color, size, gender, education and class. So how do we reclaim a time when our drawer, all lined with primrose paper, was open and pure?
One theologian that has helped me understand this purity of heart is Martin Buber. Overly simplified, Buber’s 1923 slim volume, I and Thou, articulates a bifurcated way we can experience the world . People can engage the world in two distinct ways – through an an I-It regard of the created world around them or through I-Thou relationships. I-It transactions apprehend the discrete entities around one as objects to be used or disregarded. An I-Thou orientation liberates regards the person, the animal and even the crape myrtle struggling to bloom in late August as a vessel of the Sacred Spark, not an object to be subdued and exploited.
When my heart is truly open, pure – like a child drinking in the amazing world – then I am able to regard the other as Thou and in so doing I see and acknowledge God in them. Furthermore, this orientation infuses me with the understanding that I too am a bearer of God’s pure light. In the I-Thou relationship, there is a wholeness of being in which the individual can always see God, be in relationship with God through the daily relationships with the world.
In the I-Thou relationship there is no junk drawer full of ideas cluttering the space between the regarded and regarding. There are no barriers which separate the individual from God, and thus in seeing the Divine in one another we can see God.
Jesus demonstrated the meaning of this throughout his ministry, never once treating a person he encountered merely as the label his society, his respected religious leaders, had placed on them. The tax collector and bleeding woman, the rich man and the leper were all invited into a real relationship with Jesus, to turn and love God and themselves as God loves them.
So as I understand it, purity of heart is the ability to see the spark of divinity in all creation, especially the people we meet every day. When we interact with one another with truly open hearts and minds we chance truly seeing and experiencing God in ways that our previously junked up minds could not.
This all sounds lovely and hard as hell to do. I know for sure I am not, nor ever will engage the world with a perpetually pure heart. So back to the third question that sent me down this road – how do I empty that junk drawer?
I can tell you, it was damn near impossible as a chaplain intern to see God in the abusive father who was willfully responsible for the condition of his 2 year old in the ICU. I alone was not capable of sitting with, praying with and even offering a gentle hug to such as this man. It was impossible on my own, impossible without allowing the spark of God to flow through me and allow the Spirit to move between us.
And then there are the tiny ways every day that I move past people, barely taking the time to look them in the eye much less see them for a whole person created fearfully and wonderfully in the image of our Creator. Did I truly see woman who helped me bag my groceries, the man who rang up my gas purchase, the gaggle of teenagers gathered at the corner market or the cop creeping by in her patrol car? How easily they can be but objects on my daily landscape if I do not slow down just enough to see them, really see them. How, in our frantic lives, do we slow down in order to be in genuine relationship with each person providence puts in our path? The only answer I have is prayer, prayer and more prayer to cultivate a heart that is perpetually practicing the presence of God. Only when I allow God to work with me and through me can I hope to cultivate a heart that sees God.
Gracious and loving God, help me dump the clutter of an accumulated life. Redeeming Christ, create in me a willingness to let go of the junk that prevents me from seeing the world as you do. Gentle Spirit, open my heart in order to see you in the vastness of your creation. Amen