“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”
Earlier this week Jeni Furr shared with me a poem composed about these days of coronavirus. It is written by Lynn Ungar and titled “Pandemic.”
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love—
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
The poem brought to mind author Lauren Winner. Lauren, who now teaches at Duke Divinity School, grew up as an Orthodox Jew before converting to Christianity. One of her books, Mudhouse Sabbath, talks about how much the discipline of the Jewish Sabbath meant to her – the cleaning of the house during the day, the shopping for groceries, the preparing of the meals, even the daily shower was done before the Sabbath began on Friday evening. Thus, the entire Sabbath was given to thinking about and being with God.
Sabbath should be a time of re-ordering lives and priorities. Lauren writes, “Sure, sometimes it is great when, in prayer, we can express to God just what we feel; but better still when, in the act of praying, our feelings change. Liturgy is not, in the end, open to our emotional whims. It re-points the person praying, taking him somewhere else . . . It’s not all about mountaintops. Mostly it’s about training so that you’ll know the mountaintop for what it is when you get there.”
Given that we are now in a time of nonelective confinement, perhaps we might use this as a Sabbatical, a time of Sabbath practice, an opportunity to pay attention to God’s desires for us. Today’s beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” might be a most helpful guide in our efforts to do that.
In Luke’s gospel, he has a little verse tucked away that helps define this beatitude for me. In the sixth chapter of that Gospel, Jesus says, “One speaks out of the abundance of the heart.” Think about that for a minute . . . “One speaks out of the abundance of the heart.” Simply put, how we go about life is determined by what matters most. And Sabbath is a time of getting in touch with what matters most. On Sabbaths we consider who and whose we are, so that the rest of our days can be spent as examples of grace.
A pastor was in the Middle East for sabbatical. In Jerusalem, she spent six hours one day praying in the church of the Holy Sepulcher – the place where Christendom has said Jesus was crucified. It is a complex and holy place. While there (trying to stay focused on the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ), this pastor met a group of joyful nuns, the Sisters of Charity. This is the order Mother Teresa established. They care not only for the poor on the streets of Calcutta, India, but across the globe, including Jerusalem and the USA. She sat with them and introduced herself, starting up a conversation with a beautiful young sister who happened to be from Calcutta. The pastor asked if she had known Mother Teresa. The sister’s eyes lit up, and she began to talk. “Mother found me as an orphan on the streets of Calcutta. I was being used as a child prostitute. I was 7 years old. She lifted me up and carried me to the motherhouse. She took me in and she healed me.” “What was she like?” the pastor asked. “She was pure in heart. Her face shined like the face of God.” One day, when I was about 8 and she was about 80 I rose early to do my chores. I was supposed to be cleaning the toilets that morning. But there she was, down on her knees scrubbing the toilets at 7:00 am.” I knelt beside her and said, ‘Mother, you shouldn’t be doing this. It is my job.’ She took my face in her clean hand and said, ‘My beautiful child, you have suffered enough. The least I can do is clean the toilets for you.’ Her face shined like the sun. I felt like I was looking into the face of God. . . . She had such a pure heart.”
So, how does one have such a pure heart? By modeling our lives after Jesus . . . to have hearts like His — pure, intentional grace. In these days of prescribed isolation, I hope that we can have our hearts shaped by and for the grace of God. The old evangelists’ words, “Brothers and sisters, we need to get our hearts right,” might very well be applicable for us today.
A Time of Reflection and Prayer:
- Who do you know embodies a pure heart? Why? Thank God for them and their example.
- Think back on times when you have done things unconsciously that expressed your love and commitment to God. What prompted your words or actions? How might you cultivate that behavior to be more of how you live life?
- Imagine one pattern of behavior that you might dedicate more fully in expressing your love of God. Ask for God’s assistance in making that part and parcel of how you live.
A Guided Prayer: Ernest T. Campbell at the Riverside Church in New York City
Lord, in the quiet of this hour before you, we pause to ask for a surer knowledge of who we are and what we are about.
If we can recall a time when we loved you more,
If we have become good friends with some favorite sin,
If the flame of our commitment to the world’s awful need flickers,
If along the way a relationship once cherished stands endangered through some wrong, real or imagined,
Show us the relevance of Christ for the life we live within and the world we make for others, that we may no longer live to ourselves but unto whom we call Savior, Lord, and Friend. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.