Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God!
Last time we reflected on Moses asking for the special favour of seeing God, and even as God granted it, Moses was told that it was a dangerous request. This time Jesus assures us that purity of heart is a safe path that will lead us to perceive God.
Two other passages of scripture have been rising to mind as I reflect on what it means to be pure in heart and what it looks like when we live that way. This is the first one, which I encourage you to engage with through lectio or your usual dwelling with/chewing over method. If you are keen, we’ll also take some time in our next meeting to experience this story guided through the Ignatian method I suggested in the last post.
Once you have journeyed your own way with that story, consider what Paul has to say about his struggle to bring his mind and will into line with his heart and desire. Bear in mind that he’s obviously conflicted and his writing reflects something of that, so go slowly with this passage and stay with the parts that resonate.
There are many obstacles to faithful living, loving and serving – some of them appear external, like aspects of our life circumstances, which we have inadequate power, means or liberty to change, and others are internal, like the inadequate willpower over desire driven urges Paul was describing.
Desire/passion is the powerhouse of the human heart; a blend of goal oriented reasoning and emotion fuelled energy, but most of us, like Paul, have a hard time getting these two elements to work in harmony.
What has been your experience of the push-pull of desire and will? When or where in your life have you noticed this happening the most?
How have you achieved what you wanted to, and what has tripped you up on the way?
Can you identify inner attitudes or beliefs, or outer behaviours or reactions that contribute to the conflict?
A few images might be helpful here.
There’s been a tendency to understand passion/desire as like a horse and mind/will as like the rider which means that for most of us, life often feels something like one of these… or maybe all of them depending on the day.
But Paul ends with the relieved declaration that Christ Jesus has saved us from this hopelessly flawed approach to life. Through love and passion, through choice and will, Jesus unites everything within him into One, embodying free obedience, loving service, abundantly generous with everything and everyone.
The term non-attachment has been used to describe the way that Jesus lived and loved – not clinging to praise nor to criticism, not grasping for affection nor despairing when rejected. Wholly single in heart and mind, Jesus is one pure hearted soul, which transforms the relationship of will/desire, and all other relationships too.
The word ‘monk’ comes from the latin ‘monos’ – one or single. A monk was one who was wholly, singly, purely focussed on union with God. For some reason, we got the idea that living a normal life of family, work, church and community was incompatible with communion with God. These things have been experienced as distractions instead of doorways into connection and the perfect place to practice (re)turning to Love.
Let God look at you
When Ignatius set up his prayer exercises, he encouraged his monks to begin each one by standing up and becoming conscious of God’s loving gaze set upon them.
There are a number of ways you might incorporate this practice into your life. Each time you move from sitting to standing could be a prompt to become conscious of God’s loving gaze. You might pause to take a slow breath or two and intentionally inhabit your body before you move off into whatever you stood up to do.
Alternatively, you might like to find an icon or other image of God which draws you in and set aside 20 minutes of prayer time where you either sit quietly aware of the gaze, or you may choose to return the gaze and see what is revealed to you in the looking. This site has a vast selection of images to browse, or you might like to use the one by Akaine.
Another way to practice letting God look at you is by nurturing your awareness of all the icons of God in your life – all those made in God’s image who look at you and who you look at every day (often without really seeing). A stanza from one of Rumi’s beautiful poems may help you here:
Borrow the beloved’s eyes.
Look through them
and you will see
the beloved’s face everywhere.
No tiredness….no boredom…
things you have hated will become helpers.
Let God love you
I know, that sounds too flipping obvious to be a practice, but actually, receiving love can be painfully hard. We have so many filters, so many layers of protection, so many stories of unworthiness, or of resentment about working for worthiness, we have so many evasive tactics that we aren’t even aware of….simply letting God love you, the whole of you, is for most of us, deeply challenging.
Centering prayer is based on the practice of agreeing to let God love you; an assent to God’s presence and action – which is Love. Centering prayer is the practice of saying yes to Love each time you notice that you have been swept off into clinging or grasping, swept into story. The silence that lies beneath the story is where Love is wordlessly present, quietly healing…. and occasionally rearranging the furniture.
If centering prayer isn’t your regular practice, give it a try this week (look back to the first post for more detailed instructions if you need them).
Jesus looked at the rich young man and told him to sell everything and give the money to the poor…..So find something to give away every day as a way of intentionally practicing non-attachment and as a symbolic way of shifting your mindset from possessive scarcity to creative abundance.
What you give away doesn’t have to be material – it could be time, for example, or an expectation of yourself or of another. Ideally, you’ll find something to give away that helps you feel more free, less weighted down or shackled.