Friday, November 13, 2009

Blessed Are the Pure In Heart

Although I have with God’s help at times ascended to the high plains of mercy, I cannot say that I have ever walked the plateaus of purity of heart nor the peaks of peacemaking. I have gazed upon them. And in this I derive hope. The promise of the sixth beatitude it nothing less than deification, the beatific vision, to see God. To see God is to become like God, as St. John says, “When He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” The hope for such a vision leads us to purify ourselves, which is its prerequisite, a vision bearing the fruit of transformation: “we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.”

A pure heart is a heart with undivided loyalties, a heart that has but one Master. Most of the time our hearts are scattered with longings and loyalties, and fears and resentments pushing and pulling us one way and then another. Generally we don’t even know what’s underneath it all, what the roots of our fear or anger or lust are. Sometimes, a good counselor can help us identify some of the underlying causes of our fears or inordinate lusts. But knowing, for example, that abuse I experienced as a child contributes to this or that tendency in my life, does not go very far in helping me purify my heart of its lust-driven and anger-driven and fear-driven tendencies (what in Orthodox spirituality is called “the passions”). I cannot go back and undo the past. I cannot change what I or someone else has done. I can, however, forgive and repent. I can do this in the present, regardless of the past.

Anyone who has sincerely tried to forgive someone who has deeply hurt them knows that it is not possible without God’s help and a lot of time. When it comes to forgiving, we are truly poor in spirit. We must return to the beginning, the foundation that we have actually never left; we must see and accept our poverty. I try to forgive, yet my wounded heart won’t let me; so I return to God offering Him my poverty. Brokenness and tears is an offering that God accepts. The Holy Spirit comes to us as the Comforter who teaches us meekness that leads to a hunger for righteousness; that is, instead of merely being willing to forgive, the Holy Spirit creates in us a desire to forgive.

But the real turning point in forgiveness (in my limited experience) is mercy: willingly taking the pain of another into ourselves. When I see only my own pain, I become a slave to the passions that are produced by that pain. When I see the pain of others—and not just see, but enter into the pain of others by weeping with them—then my pain seems to melt away. And with the pain, the power of the passions slips away too. When my life is caught up in caring for others (when I am “losing my life,” to use Jesus’ expression), I find my life returning to me. In serving and loving others, I become more myself.

Someone recently asked me, in the light of this path of transformation, “But how do you keep from becoming a doormat?” No one wants to be dehumanized by another; yet the fear of being a doormat is evidence that one is already a doormat, a doormat to fear. The false masters that dominate us do not live outside us, they live inside us. So long as we are driven by fears and lusts and anger to protect ourselves, to build walls, to not let the other so near that we too might feel their hurt and have to bear some of their burden, then our hearts are not our own, but we are slaves of multiple masters. It is true that many relationships are very sick, so sick that one person “walks all over” the other. But why do we allow such relationships to continue as they are? Why don’t we see our way clear to say “no”—not the “no” of self assertion, but the “no” of love, the “no” that acknowledges that I am not loving you if I let you continue to dehumanize me? We cannot lovingly say “no” to a dehumanizing relationship because we are already doormats to fear and a multitude of other kinds of brokenness in our hearts. And even if we are powerless in a relationship, so that our "no" cannot be heard; still, "no" can be said in our hearts: the "no" of a heart that belongs completely to God and cannot be compromised or owned or dehumanized by anything that comes from the outside.

St. John Chrysostom said that no one can hurt us unless we let them. For the first three hundred years of its existence, Christianity was the religion of the slaves. Slaves have no choice about what happens to them, the relationships they are forced into, or the oppressions they endure. Yet St. Paul says to the Corinthians, “The one who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave.” And this truly describes our condition, for whether we become a slave by economic, political or other sorts of external oppressions, or whether we become a slave by passions and fears and a past full of bad choices, it doesn’t matter. Regardless of my past, regardless of my circumstances, regardless of what others do or do not do, I can give my heart to God right now. I can offer to God my poverty. I can mourn my weaknesses. I can receive the Holy Spirit. And I can change.

Change is never easy. It is a process, a ladder that we climb. But we can climb it, even if our husband or wife or children or parents or employer or even our priest or pastor do not seem to be climbing it. I cannot change them, I can only offer myself to God and be changed. And yet there is a promise that if I offer my heart undividedly to God, if with a pure heart I begin to see God, then I may ascend even higher, to become a peacemaker, one whose very presence reveals God to others and draws them toward peace.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Fr. Michael.

I loved this post.