Lenten Devotional – THURS, Mar 18: SEE (revisited)

Who has seen Godself? How do we see God? Do we see Godself in human form, as described here, or as something else?

In scripture, few people could come directly into the presence of Godself. The great prophet Moses did so. Others could not look upon the radiance of his face afterward. A few other Biblical prophets also reported meeting God in person.

Famously, in Hebrew Scriptures, Jacob wrestled with a stranger at night on his way to Canaan. Though dawn was approaching, neither person could prevail. Jacob refused to give up the struggle, so the stranger touched his hip, and hi joint came out of place. Afterward Jacob limped.  By remaining stubbi=orn and continuing to wrestle, he won for himself a blessing and the new name Israel. Jacob named the place by the river where he had wrestled with Godself Peniel or Penuel. (פְּנוּאֵל) Trabnslated, this means “face of God” or “facing God”.

Later, in a tender passage, Jacob then says to his brother Esau, “For I have, after all, seen your face, as one sees the face of God…” He sees Godself in his sibling’s face. It is a fleeting experience. The connection doesn’t endure, perhaps because humans cannot sustain such awareness in each other’s company. Theologian Steve Watson writes, “He has just had this profound spiritual experience – he knows a thing or two about seeing the face of God. And he looks at his brother, face to face, and thinks that is what is happening. To see you accepting me, for us to be at peace – without walls, without fear, person to person, is for me to see in your face the face of God.  … this proves to be too much. The intimacy of full personhood, brother to brother, is somehow so unfamiliar, so threatening, that within a day, he’s moved on… But for a moment, he had that connection, that peace to see the face of God in his brother.”

Yet for a brief time, they both experienced a profound sense of once more being in God’s company. They found God in each other.

Of course, the followers of Jesus walked in the embodied presence of the child of God. Most Christians recognize him as part of the holy trinity: Godself.

Jesus also, powerfully, reminded people that when they attended to the needs of others, they attended to the needs of God. They met Jesus in the form of other people to whome they offered compassion. How often, then, might you have been meeting the needs of Godself, even sat or kept vigil in the presence of Godself, by responding to human needs?

In our times, how do we see Godself in the world around us?

Has any person ever brought you into the presence of God? Perhaps at thesholds, such as birth or death, or life moments such as making promises to each other?

Or have you, like Moses, find Godself out in nature? On top of a mountain? Inside the the branches of a bush? At the ocean’s edge? In a quiet woodland? A spring meadow? A winter storm? A summer rainfall? In the midst of birdsong? Surrounded by wild creatures? In the presence of your own pet?

Remember that Godself saw your face first. And loved you, even if you didn’t recognize Godself.  — Rev Gail

MEDITATIONS

Trust and value your own divinity as well as your connection to nature. Seeing God’s work everywhere will be your reward.  — Wayne Dyer

Love is seeing God in the person next to us, and meditation is seeing God within us. Votes: — Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Seeing God face to face is to feel that He is enthroned in our hearts even as a child feels a mother’s affection without needing any demonstration. — Mahatma Gandhi

Challenge or Question: Where do you experience God’s self-revelation in the world?

Lenten Devotional – WED, Mar 17: SEE

As mentioned in the past few days, at the center of this blessing is the promise of perception and presence. Those who are pure in heart will see the face of God. By clearing away everything that would distract us, by becoming single-minded and whole-hearted, we grow more attentive and attuned.

Many commentators suggest that being pure of heart will help God’s followers experience God’s revelation all around them. As The Message paraphrases the Beatitudes, ‘You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.’

Cynthia Bourgeault writes, ‘The heart in the ancient sacred traditions has a very specific and perhaps surprising meaning … an organ for the perception of divine purpose and beauty … our antenna … to orient us toward the divine radiance and to synchronize our being with its more subtle movements … for divine perception.’

She continues, ‘the physical world we take for our … time-and-space-bound reality is encompassed in another: a coherent and powerful world of divine purpose always surrounding and interpenetrating it. This other, more subtle world is invisible to the senses, and to the mind it appears to be pure speculation. But if the heart is awake and clear, it can directly receive, radiate, and reflect this unmanifest divine Reality.’

Some scholars expect to see God with their senses. To come into the presence of Godself. Yet according to tradition, Godself is veiled from us. We cannot fully behold God. Recall scriptures such as ‘looking in a mirror darkly’ at the reflection of God, with imperfect sight and perception, versus ‘seeing God face to face’. Only Moses, in Hebrew scriptures, could bear to look upon the unveiled face of God. The radiance of his experience made his own face become so bright that people couldn’t look directly on Moses when he came down the mountain.

While some commentators believe this blessing promises the chance to actually see God in person or to come into the presence of Godself. Others consider it a promise of spiritual companionship. Whitley Strieber suggests that the promise of the Beatitude is companionship with Godself.

One way or another, when we focus and grow mindful, we become more aware of God’s loving presence that has drawn close to us. We cannot come closer to God, except by opening ourselves and saying yes. If we simply consent, God will close the remaining distance between us., which may simply mean lifting the veils and barriers that have hidden Godself, even when God has been with us all along. We simply couldn’t see with the eyes of heart, until now.  — Rev Gail

MEDITATIONS:

To love another person is to see the face of God. Victor Hugo

And when she wanted to see the face of God, she didn’t look up and away; she looked into the eyes of the person sitting next to her. Which is harder. Better — Glennon Doyle Melton from Carry On, Warrior about Mother Theresa

When the distorting instrument of the mind is made clear, we see life not as a collection of fragments, but as a seamless whole. We see the divine spark at the center of our very being; and we see simultaneously that in the heart of every other human being—in every country, in every race—though hidden perhaps by clouds of ignorance and conditioning, that same spark is present, one and the same in all. — Eknath Easwaran

The symbol of my prayer this day is the open heart. It is most natural for me to think of prayer in terms of the open hand. My needs are so great and often so desperate that there seems to be naught besides my own urgency. I must open my heart to God. This will include my own deep urgencies and all the warp and woof of my desiring. These things, deep within, I must trust with the full awareness that more important even than self-realization is the true glorifying of God. Somehow I must make God central to me and in me, over and above the use to which I wish or need to put His energy and His power. — Howard Thurman (prayer)

Challenge or Question: Where do you experience God’s self-revelation in the world?

Lenten Devotional – TUESDAY, Mar 16: HEART

The ‘heart’ is the source of purity in this Beatitude. We might translate it as inner attentiveness to ethical intentions and spiritual seeking. And how this mindfulness shapes our outward actions. It involves cultivation of a faithful spiritual life. Richard Rohr observes, ‘When the heart is right, Jesus says, seeing will be right. He ties together heart and sight.’

The heart becomes a lens that directs perception and offers a focal point. The Expositor’s Greek commentary says, ‘That purity is in the heart, the seat of thought, desire, motive, not in the outward act, goes without saying from Christ’s point of view.’ As mentioned in yesterday’s reflection, mindfulness heightens the sense of the pure in heart. Others might miss the revelations that are available to those who become single-minded or whole-hearted in their quest to follow Godself.

In some faith traditions, such as the Sufi tradition, practitioners strive to immerse themselves in the presence of Godself, to lose all sense of boundaries and become deeply connected to the eternal. Such an experience may be fleeting, yet it is life-defining. Knowing Godself — or objectively to reach enlightenment — is the sole ambition of mystics and seekers across many traditions of the world.

The pure of heart, in this blessing, are promised to see God. This is, indeed, to attune oneself to a revelation that is beyond the reach of most people, since we’re distracted and Godself remains veiled from us, unless we pay attention. — Rev Gail

MEDITATIONS:

The awakened heart and mind can be experienced as clarity itself, pure knowing. — Jack Kornfield

Grown men can learn from very little children for the hearts of little children are pure. Therefore, the Great Spirit may show to them many things which older people miss. — Black Elk

… it almost surprised me the other day when something was said about the “fundamentals of the Christian faith,” and I thought to myself—“I think I know what those are.” Love God. Love people. It seems so simple and so obvious, but it took me three years of serious doubt, two years of study, an ongoing sense of skepticism, a trip to India, a blog, and a book to really figure this out for myself. … Love is fundamental. It’s more important than being right. It’s more important than having all our theological ducks in a row. It’s more important than any commitment to absolute truth or a particular hermeneutic or a “high view” (read: “my view”) of sovereignty or the Bible or faith or the Church. — Rachel Held-Evans

Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Those who aren’t sure, who can still be surprised. Blessed are they who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

Perhaps pure reason without heart would never have thought of God. —  Georg C. Lichtenberg

Challenge or Question: What spiritual practices have you used, that you find you desire to continue, that support bringing your whole heart into connection with God?

Lenten Devotional – MONDAY, Mar 15: PURE

Pure. This word is full of virtue, isn’t it? It suggests something that is untainted, untouched, or in archaic terms, virginal. In some contexts, it means something cleansed, sanctified, and set apart.

Can you take your heart — metaphorically — out of your chest, divided from the whole of yourself? Separate it from body, mind, and spirit? Wall it off? Keep it away from the world and focus it only on holy thoughts? No. Your heart is integral to the fullness of your being.

And yet, pure can means a singular focus on Godself: feeling, thinking, and choosing with a whole and holy heart. One commentary described such people as those who are ‘… single-minded … who seek the kingdom as the summum bonum with undivided heart.’ And Søren Kierkegaard wrote, ‘purity of heart is to will one thing.’

Arguably, the point of the Beatitudes is not about achieving or aspiring to perfection; it is about mindfulness and intention. It involves interior motivations and attentiveness.

After all, as we’ve already discussed during Lent, who among us ever achieves perfection?  Actually, there’s a good reason for the wisdom saying that ‘perfection is the enemy of good.’ When we aim to be perfect, we become so paralyzed and our goal so unattainable, that we may experience the law of diminishing returns. If we try to be perfedct, we may never attempt anything or take any risks or ever complete any thought or work or deed. Thus, let’s put aside the idea of ‘pure of heart’ as being perfect.

The Beatitudes aren’t generally about separating ourselves from everything around us. Rather, they’re aimed at living here and now, in this world, in these times, deeply engaged in the reality wherein we find ourselves.

What, then, does it mean to be single-minded and whole-hearted for God within this world? It certainly means that we don’t live as if we’re set apart. Rather we live in this world, believing that Godself is active and tangible and revealed all around us, in each other, and inside ourselves.

Since pure, here, is spiritual and focused within our hearts and minds, let’s call it a state of being. The contemporary language of The Message uses this idea, ‘You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.’

Let’s pick up the idea of perception. The Message says that if your inner perception is attuned, it will help you see God everywhere else, too. Another commentary by Ellicott suggests that ‘“purity of heart,” so far as it exists, brings with it the power of seeing more than others see in all through which God reveals Himself—the beauty of nature, the inward light, the moral order of the world, the written word, the life and teaching of Christ.’

Theologian Whitley Strieber paraphrases this Beatitude as, ‘Blessed are those who do not hate, for God shall be their companion.’ Thus we can also consider ‘pure’ single-mindedness and whole-heartedness to be focused on healthy ways of seeking and expressing love. God’s agape love as the ultimate example of what love can mean for us.

Love in its healthy, holy and pure condition seeks sustainable and positive emotional, psychological, and spiritual choices, in every possible circumstance. Chooses to turn from hate, however difficult that may be. Opts for compassion and friendship and affection and healthy passions. Strives for enlightenment. Follows the Way of Christ.

Can you recognize yourself as pure, if you think about yourself being single-minded or whole-hearted? — Rev Gail

MEDITATIONS:

There is nothing more pure and beautiful than a person who always speaks truthfully with a childlike heart. Suzy Kassem

A pure heart is nothing more than being real with God, and not pretending to honor and adore Him. Will you do this? Give God praise freely? Shelena Griffiths

We are not sent into this world mainly to enjoy the loveliness therein, nor to sit us down in passive ease; no, we were sent here for action. The soul that seeks to do the will of God with a pure heart, fervently, does not yield to the lethargy of ease. — Dorothea Dix

Great thoughts and a pure heart, that is what we should ask from God. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Challenge or Question: What captures your attention? When can you say you have been single-minded or whole-hearted? Do these interests and passions lead you closer or further from connection to holy love?

Lenten Devotional – Week 4

Matthew 5: 7-8

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. ”

SUNDAY, Mar 14: BLESSED

Some translators use the word ‘happiness’ as another meaning for ‘blessed.’ As if the blessing confers a state of happiness upon those who have been named.

Yet in the upside-down world of the Beatitudes, often those who are named as blessed are also those grappling with complex personal and societal challenges. They’re living in or addressing poverty. They’re naming weaknesses and faults and vulnerabilities. They’re facing injustice and oppression. They’re living in times of lack and inequality. Happiness would seem a far-off state of being.

In this week’s Beatitudes, the blessing falls on those who are pure of heart and those who choose peace. These are not people basking in contentment and easy living. These are people who are walking the Way in the midst of extremes. They’re choosing love over hate. They’re choosing a path of resistance and nonviolent revolution. They’re addressing personal problems and societal wrongs.

‘They’ is also ‘us.’ Remember, we’re often the folk who strive for such values. We want to live by these ideals of purity and peace-making. At our best, we act and speak in support of these characteristics.

Yet we know that we often don’t feel pure. Or peaceful. Or happy.

We fall short. Our hearts fall short. The world falls short. Rather than feeling happy, we’re disappointed. Frustrated. Angry. Afraid.

Perhaps it’s more helpful to use the word ‘joy’ rather than ‘happiness’ as the promise of ‘blessedness’. Happiness is like weather: fleeting and seasonal. Always-changing. Joy is the sky: deep and eternal, unaffected by the winds and rains, because it springs from a deeper, higher place. How else do we explain accessing humor, peace, hope, and joy in the hardest, most life-threatening times? Abiding joy is there: growing, rising, connecting us to the sacred love of God.

Yet in our daily living, we’re more aware of the weather than the sky behind it. We feel the immediate effects of emotions and circumstances, and question the blessing.

We’re susceptible to changing conditions. Being blessed — or happy — may not seem like a tangible, deliverable, real promise. A state of being available to us, here and now. Most of the time, we’ll struggle to imagine how the conditions named in the Beatitudes can lead to a blessing.

After all, we fall short of deserving such gifts. How can they possibly be true? That’s the beauty of the Beatitudes. Instead of asking us to be perfect, the Beatitudes bless us as we are: bundles of hope, desire, and aspiration. We’re full of potential, but we’re definitely not idealized versions of humanity.

The One who blesses us, also recognizes the value of our hunger. Our yearning. Our motivation. Our turning toward God. Our almost-honesty. Our love-seeking selves. Our desire to do what’s right. Our longing for peace.

By now, the Beatitudes have modeled for us, over and over, that we’re usually in a position to need more than we can give. We’re broken open. It’s that vulnerability that permits us to receive what is offered.

We are enough, just as we are. Beloved. Chosen. Claimed. Adopted. Welcomed. Wanted. As humans, we may reflect each of these Beatitudinal conditions and characteristics at different times in our lives. God will work through us, imperfect as we are, if we simply receive the blessing of love being poured out for us. — Rev Gail

MEDITATIONS:

Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another. — George Eliot

I’m blessed and I thank God for every day for everything that happens for me. — Lil Wayne

Blessed are those who give without remembering and take without forgetting. — Elizabeth Bibesco

Life is filled with tragedy, with long patches of struggle and with, I think, beautiful bursts of joy and accomplishment. Blessed with those moments, you just try to relax as much as possible and focus on the little things, like the joy of changing your baby’s diaper. — David Dastmalchian

Challenge or Question: Identify a blessing within your life. One aspect of your life for which you are grateful. Give thanks for it. Say a prayer, write it in a journal, or light a candle to acknowledge this blessing.

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