Monday, July 14, 2008

Mike: The Fifth Beatitude

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." (Matthew 5:8) (NRSV)

Psalm 24:3-4 probably serves as background to the fifth beatitude. The psalmist asks who shall ascend God's hill and stand in "his holy place?" The answer is he (or she) with clean hands, a pure heart, a life given to truthfulness. The Psalm may well have been used in worship, perhaps just before the people entered the Temple.

In any case, Jesus opts for a briefer statement. Who will see God? The pure in heart. The "heart," in the New Testament, is the will. We might paraphrase the beatitude: "Blessed are the pure in will, for they will see God." Jesus, to borrow a phrase from Kirkegaard, calls his followers to choose to "will one thing." They are to cultivate a single-minded devotion to God. Such focus may open our eyes, so that we see God.

The beatitude, of course, implies most of us lack such a focus. I think this is true. Most people of faith genuinely want to see (experience, know, etc.)God, but they also want a good many other things. To borrow from other sayings of Jesus, we find it hard to sell all we have in order to purchase the pearl of great price. We like to think we can keep what we have yet get the pearl as well. We're like a young man who greatly desires to marry a certain woman yet refuses to stop dating other women. A divided heart (will) ultimately leaves us out in the cold.

Perhaps this is why Jesus found it necessary to say, "Seek you first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you."

What happens if we become "pure of heart?" At the very least, we start to "see God." We see what we learn to see. Focused on God, we begin to see the divine in others. Some of us catch a glimpse of God in history, a good story, or nature itself. The longer we focus on God, the more apt we are to see God in ourselves as well. As a teenager once put it: "Every thing in life becomes a God thing."

Most of us, myself included, never achieve sustained purity of heart. Fed by the occasional experience, however, our desire to do so grows. With practice, we get better. A kind of spiritual muscle memory develops. Good orship, both private and corporate, is largely devoted to strenthening our spiritual muscle memory.


MaryAnn said...

I have a completely different take on this. It relates directly to the admonition to become child-like. That's the purity that's wanted, the non-judging openness of a child, not an adult's moral exercise in self-control of the will. It's the very opposite! It's letting go of control that's wanted, in order to live into this one.

soldiermom said...

How can you be so sure that your interpretation of what it means to be child-like is any more accurate than Mike's concept of will? They are both just ideas, open to discussion, yes? Personally, I have been around some pretty self-willed children and they exhibit little control over their will, nor are they pure and non-judging. I think perhaps we might be talking about ideals in both areas. Not the norm in either. What say you?

MaryAnn said...

My take on this, which may well be different from yours, comes from my own personal experience. I've been intensely involved in the spiritual life for more than 60 years, since my first encounter with the numinous at the age of 7. This is what has been, and continues to be, true for me. You may experience something quite different. In my comment, I greatly simplified a far more complicated concept.
Re idealism, I didn't mean this as an intellectual exercise at all. It's the reality of a spiritual practice.
Note, I said become child-like, not childish. Jesus said one must become like a little child to enter the kingdom, but this idea is not exclusive to Christianity. For instance, Feri, a branch of paganism, teaches something called the Black Heart of Innocence which is a parallel.

soldiermom said...

What is "the numinous?"

Thanks for responding.

MaryAnn said...

The numinous means a sense of the presence of divinity, or the holy. You asked some very good questions!

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This is Mike. I greatly appreciate the conversation the Maryann and Soldiermom have had!

For what it's worth, I do not think Maryann and I are that far apart. I do not have in mind self-control of the will, at least not as one might normally think of the matter. Instead, I have in mind surrender of wilfulness. I often speak of this as relaxing and falling into the hands of God.

Strangely enough, in such surrender I find genuine security and even direction. I rather think this is the kind of child-likeness Jesus had in mind.