Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Pure in heart? How? Me see God? Actually? When is that to be? What can Jesus have meant, back in Galilee, when he was preaching from the lake shore or on the mountain side?
Purity of heart! Not many of us are going to see God at that rate. . . not ANY of us! Purity of heart! Our hearts are complicated with all kinds of dubious motives over which we have no control—quasi-homicidal, vengeful feelings, sometimes hate-filled feelings. As for the sexual imagination, it knows no bounds (male or female, straight or gay), although Christians have tried to muffle them, muzzle them, extirpate them, purify them by all kinds of inhuman and illogical punitive means. Pure in heart?—unlikely. See God?—not me anyway, doubtful.
Yet a possibility opens if we consider that by purity of heart is not meant moral purity. Could we have missed that? In the conventional religious world, pure has meant clean, innocent, without moral blemish, uncontaminated, perfect, perfected. Impossible.
On the other hand, the answer of one philosopher (I’ll tell you later who I mean) was, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” Pure, in the sense of un-mixed, full-strength, simple, uniform, un-compounded, homogenous, unalloyed, without by-products—that’s what our philosopher means by pure, that is single-minded. Our philosopher goes on, “If it is possible to will one thing, then we must will the Good, for only the Good is one. We can will no other thing, than the Good, and only single-mindedly.”
Well, what is the Good and how do you define it? That’s a fair question. Our philosopher says, “Now, willing one thing does not mean willing the grandiose. It is not a brazen, unholy enthusiasm for what is big.” It may have to be something more modest than defeating the monster of American racism wholesale.
And whatever we mean by “the Good” is not Good if pursued for secondary benefits, to keep legal or keep kosher or keep orthodox. “Willing one thing is not willing it for any reward, or to avoid punishment—there are no subordinate or ulterior goals, if we are willing the Good.”
But if we remember Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, we see what our philosopher means—straight ahead for the sake only of one enduring value or truth. His singleness of purpose eclipsed any ulterior purposes. So, our philosopher goes on (are you willing to follow?)—a qualitative change of your present life is required. It’s more than re-prioritizing, it is revolutionizing, although to the outward eye, you may not appear or sound any different. But oh what a difference.
Our philosopher poses for us our questions. “There are two different questions: What is it that endures? And, How do I get through this world? Those who ask the second question have no desire for real knowledge. But the one who asks what endures has already passed through, she has already gone over from chronological time to eternity, though she is still alive.”
Eternity for her “is not a final change that creeps in at the moment of death. Quite the contrary, it is a changelessness that remains unaltered by the passage of time.” Jesus’ kingdom of heaven is neither a place nor another time. For truly to will one thing, our philosopher says, “we must will the Good for its own sake. And we must be willing to do anything or to suffer anything for it. It requires a commitment to always be loyal to the Good.
In this case, an unexpected result occurs. In this case, “because she does not have to do everything, therefore she finds ample time for the Good.”
The Good must be good for all, good that cuts across the particular goods of particular groups (e.g., royalty, dominant races or classes, etc.)—this is likely to be risky because it will be unpopular for the zero-sum mentality of Temple priests or white nationalist Christians. “But the confidence required for a person to step out into risk does give him superhuman strength. One who does not trust, does not receive this strength.”
There are historic biographies I could use to illustrate—Mother Jones would be one (in honor of Women’s History Month). She trusted. “One who does not trust, does not receive this strength.”
I realize that’s not totally reassuring, especially on the road to Jerusalem. Prudence will make someone say, “I owe it to myself and to my future not to put all my eggs in one basket.” Maybe I can make my point another way. But, “In so saying, anybody would be forgetting that Eternity is his future, and it were best not to miss it.” Best take one egg from the basket.
By the same token, ambition will make someone keep an eye on one’s accomplishments. “The amount we accomplish in life is no measure of the Eternal. God’s Son truly willed the Good in the Eternal sense and not the temporal. In the temporal world, he was perceived to have been rejected and as having accomplished little. Just so has it gone with many other witnesses to the Good and the True, in whom this eternal will has burned fiercely.”
Burn fiercely—that is our human destiny if conventional Christianity doesn’t get in the way. “Because I do believe that at each person’s birth, there comes into being an eternal vocation for him, expressly for him. To be true to himself in relation to this eternal vocation is the highest thing a man or a woman can do. Sin is disloyalty to the self we are called to be, the denial of our higher calling. The sufferings of life test one as to whether it is truly the Good that he wills, or whether I myself am caught up in deception.”
For the honest person, for the one who wills one thing, “when a man or woman leaves this world, they bring everything they value with them and leaves nothing behind. He loses nothing and gains everything—for God is everything to him.”
There is always suffering in human life, especially in life devoted to the Good, and we would wish that this cup pass from me. “The wish is the sufferer’s connection with a happier temporal existence.” Jesus warned against wishing for more things or for another fate.
“Wherever we are in the world, whichever road we travel, when we will one thing, we are on a road that leads to You!” It led Jesus to Jerusalem. The Good he was loyal to made such a journey inevitable. But the journey was not taken to death; it was taken toward a Good whose earthly consequence might involve death, as it had before for other witnesses to the True and the Good. What was that Good for Jesus? It was the perpetual forgiveness of God, that people might know it and seize it for their release and redemption. Jesus is who he is not because Christians call him Savior, but because the Good he served will save us. Jesus indeed saw God—but, ironically, to such an extent that he was mistaken for God.
“The decision to will the Good of which each person is capable, means listening to the universe. To be eloquent is a mere frill, by no means essential to anything truly important. Earnestness to listen in order to act, this is the most important attitude in the spiritual, devotional sense.” This will come about only in a reconstructed community, in a reconstructed church, like the reconstructed Temple Jesus came to Jerusalem to life up. A place not of formal show of religion, but a place of honesty and self-discovery, of repentance and repair, of prayer, meditation, study and dialogue. It’s not a community of belief but of action, the action being listening and learning, as with Mary, that our lives may be transformed by the desire to will one thing, willing the Good. The action being to choose steps that serve the Good.
Now comes our philosopher’s challenge to us. “What kind of life to you live? Do you will only one thing? And if so, what is this one thing? Do you live your life in such a way that this question is even meaningful to you? Do you consciously live your life before God? This consciousness is the most basic condition for purity of heart. The person who is not wholly himself, who is not a conscious individual, is never anything wholly and decisively. He only exists in an external sense; he is only ever a fraction within the crowd, a fragment of society. How desperately does such a person need to consider what it means to will one thing!”
Another reason for the church’s existence is to support you in such conscious living. “Like changing our clothes, we take off our many-ness, our distraction and duplicity, in order to rightly put on the seamless garment of one thing, willing the Good.”
Beware, Jesus warned his followers on the road to Jerusalem, “the press of many-ness and busy-ness is like a magic spell. And it is sad to see how its power swells, how it reaches out to lay hold of ever younger victims. [Who] will ever be allowed the peace and quiet in which the Eternal may unfold its divine growth?”
This calls not for the imitation of Christ, but for living the Christ-life, as the conditions of your life dictate. Maybe this is too much Jesus for you. I don’t blame you, given the way that Jesus has been used and abused and sanctified and idealized from one church to another. Jesus himself said, not everyone who says Lord, Lord, enters the kingdom of heaven. But the Jesus, when purity of heart is understood in his way, you can’t get enough of that Jesus, I believe. As your minister today, albeit as interim, the Good I seek is your connection with Christ. It is my temporal obligation to see you from one minister to the next, but that is a sub-set of my one single goal of converting you to the eternal Christ you don’t know yet. Just know that the Jesus who sought the restoration of the Temple gives you the strength to risk restoring Eliot Church. This is not so much a matter of belief as it is of action, not spiritual practices either but purity of heart. You too will see God, as Jesus did and as Jesus promised.