Purity of heart
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.-Matthew 5:8
The beatitude before us today, with its promise that the pure in heart will see God, reminds me of a favorite, rather strange short story entitled Revelation by Flannery O’Connor. Written towards the end of her too short life, the story features good Southern Christians, one woman in particular named Ruby Turpin. Ruby’s religion is unattractively mixed up with her own sense of superiority, her racism, her self-righteousness. (Have you ever heard of such a thing?)
The story ends as Mrs. Turpin has a vision of a procession, people crossing a bridge of light from Earth to Heaven. The people who ascend first are the ones Mrs. Turpin regarded as white and black trash, freaks and lunatics at the bottom on Ruby Turpin’s hierarchy. They ascend as “joyous, disorderly Christian soldiers.” The last in line include those like herself and her husband, though as they march upward “she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.”
I was interested to learn that Flannery O’Connor, toward the end of her life, signed some letters as Mrs. Turpin, perhaps indicating that she detected some degree of self-righteous superiority in herself.
Purity of heart suggests sincerity. I had been once told that the root of the word “sincerity” has to do with burning away wax so metal can be made pure. Apparently, that is probably not true, which is too bad, because it ought to be. It would have served my purposes to say that purity of heart, a.k.a., sincerity, is about burning away those (perhaps impure) aspects of our life, those parts of our heart that draw us from the love of God, that obscure our vision of God.
The fact is, purity of heart, at least as I look at my own heart, is mostly aspirational. I’m guessing none of us achieve it fully in this life. One of my wise predecessors in ministry, Alan Gates, now Bishop of Massachusetts, repeatedly told his congregation that he never met a motive that wasn’t mixed. Martin Luther said that we are saints and sinners at the same time. So we might as well start by admitting that purity of heart remains a growth opportunity. And then move on to take steps toward that purity, or at least, arrive somewhere in the neighborhood of purity of heart. How might that happen?
Once we’ve admitted that we need to have even our virtues burned away, that our pride about our virtues can be an impediment, we are free to realize that purity of heart has to do with love. It has to do with where we give our heart. Jesus said: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The desert father, Abba Poemem said: “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.” So check in. Take your own inventory. Where are you giving your heart? Are you giving your heart to satisfying things?
Then develop practices that might deepen your love of God, love of neighbor, love of your world, love of self. The more that can happen, the closer we come to purity of heart. Growing that love, in all its aspects, has to do with practice. It’s about a relationship with God, and like any relationship, it comes with dedication of time and energy. In the Christian spiritual journey, that’s a matter of gathering for worship, commitment to service, rhythms of silence and prayer and study, especially study of the scripture through which the Spirit speaks, discernment about what we watch and what we won’t watch, what we listen to and what we won’t listen to, what we believe and what we refuse to believe. In all of these areas, we take steps toward purity of heart.
As we take those steps, ever purer hearts recognize dependence on God to lead us in the journey. That movement doesn’t happen because of our own wisdom or resources or fortitude or virtue. (Remember Mrs. Turpin.) It is a gift, a grace. Can we accept that gift this week, in some way, great or small? When that happens, we might just get glimpses of God. How cool is that?
Please join us November 4th at 7pm Eastern
RenewalWorks: Connect with Jerusalem Greer and Jay Sidebotham
to discuss My Way of Love for Small Groups
Join our RenewalWorks: Connect email list to receive more details and the Zoom link