If I asked you to draw a heart, given the many different ways we consider it, you would likely come up with a diversity of images. Some of you I’m sure would simply draw the double-sided image we see everywhere on Valentine’s Day. Others would draw an almost anatomically correct image of the ventricles and chambers, with veins and arteries to boot. And those of you with a sense of humor would perhaps come up with some combination of the first two, but adding legs, arms and a sweatband – for the biggest running muscle in our bodies.
For the ancients, the image of the heart meant a great deal more than any of these visions. Jesus’ listeners would have immediately pictured their inner-most being. The heart was the seat of everything that a person is – their intelligence, their imagination, their energy, and their love. It is there, at the very center of their being that these people would meet God, because God created our truest self.
Jesus focuses on the pure in heart, or pure of heart. The word in the Greek for “pure” has an implication not that one has remained without blemish from the beginning, but rather that one has been cleansed. Christ is drawing our attention not to the acutely perfect, but to the deeply relieved. Purity of heart comes to those who have felt God’s grace wash over them, over time removing all things but the one that matters. The pure of heart are single-minded in their focus on God, with a clarity of devotion that eventually forgets everything but who God is, and in turn who we are in God.
Once we have found this truest self, our real identity, there is only one thing we can do. Kierkegaard once said that “purity of heart is to will one thing.” We who have come to know God in this deepest of ways, we realize that God is not a great cashier in the sky who rings up our deeds like purchases and pays us in rewards like lottery winnings. Those who think that have missed the point. Nor are we called to do this thing or that thing because they were mandated by the law. Instead, we are called to will that which God wills, to come to the realization of who God is – which is the same as God calls us to be. God has told us, mortals, on what we should hang all the law and the prophets – our history, our present and our future – on God. The pure of heart have accepted into themselves this ultimate truth: that if God is love, than we are meant to be love, too.
In the famous children’s book, The Little Prince, it says, “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” It is the pure in heart who can see God, because they have experienced God’s love in the washing away of all that separates us from God and from one another. Just as the face of God is there in our inmost self – so the face of God is there in all peoples’ inmost selves.
In Africa, there are churches that when they pass the peace will greet one another with a warm embrace and say “I love the face of Christ I see.” The pure of heart know that everywhere there is another human being, a child of God, all of those are thin places – as the Celtics believed in those places where God comes close. We need only to look next to us to see Christ’s face and to hear God calling us. We are called to be the love that God is for all of our neighbors, whoever they may have been, are or will be. God makes no distinction and as Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
So give in to God speaking within your heart; let it break open so that just as God has purified you in love, you may pour out that same love in every thin place, into the hearts of those with Christ’s face. And say to all you meet, I love the face of Christ I see.