"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God"
If pure in heart means never having a bad thought, I'm unlikely to ever see God! Fortunately that's not what it means. Glen Stassen says pure heartedness is about integrity so that our intentions align with our actions. "Holistically focused" is another one of his phrases. For a number of years, my shorthand for pure in heart has been 'single minded'.
"Seeing God" is also tricky. In Ex 33.20 it says no one can see God and live, yet a few verses earlier (v11) we're told that YHWH used to speak to Moses face to face - like a friend. A kind of comprise happens in the narrative surrounding these verses whereby God passes by Moses, but Moses only sees his back, not his face. However we parse it all out, the bible wants to tell us that seeing God is dangerous, but also transformative. Moses shines with YHWH's glory, which has irradiated him because he 'saw' YHWH on Sinai. In the NT John says "No one has ever seen God but the one and only Son" (John 1.18). Jesus shining at the Mt of Transfiguration is surely significant here too.
So are we meant to understand that Moses and Jesus were specially pure in heart - the shining ones who have seen God?
If so, maybe it was their single minded commitment to God's kingdom which distinguished them. Moses in leading Israel from slavery, interceding for them when they rebel, and bringing them to the cusp of the promise land (read kingdom). Jesus' single mindedness/pure in heart is demonstrable. His mahi is proclaiming God's Kingdom, and even in the garden, facing the cross, it's "your will be done".
Jesus' twin parables of the buried treasure and priceless pearl (Matt 13.44-46) is, I think, all about being pure in heart. Negatively, it's what the rich young rule lacked precisely because he wasn't the sort of person to "sell everything" for the sake of the Kingdom.
So, how do I experiment with being pure in heart this month? I'll write a list. No doubt a long list of ways in I'm not single minded in my pursuit of the Kingdom, and a shorter list of any ways I am more Moses and Jesus-like in my whole-hearted devotion to God's mission. The net result I'll call a doxometer (glory meter). Whether my face shines any brighter or duller.....
Fun fact: A mistranslation in the Latin Vulgate led to many artistic depictions of Moses having horns rather than a shiny face. See here.
So I found a member of a religious order called the Sisters of Mercy. Their founder was Catherine McAuley, an Irish woman who lived during the mid 19th century.
They arrived in NZ quite early and are principally known as a teaching order.
What I discovered through my email discussions with Sis. Elizabeth was the ancient church tradition of the 7 works of mercy:
There were 2 wise things Sis Elizabeth highlighted for me. The first is that in the bible mercy is primarily an action, rather than simply a feeling. "It's a verb" she said.
Her second piece of wisdom arose after I pushed back, wondering whether mercy had become understood as somewhat paternalistic. Here's what she wrote: Yes, the one dispensing mercy can seem to be 'lady bountiful'. However, I think the first step is always the receiving of mercy. We cannot give what we do not have. And everything is gift anyway. Growth in awareness of this reality is a lifetime journey!
I'd put it like this: you can't do 'in' or 'out' without also doing 'up'. This is cryptic discipleship language for the 3 dimensions of life Jesus calls us into. While we might love our community (in), or love the people we feel God calling us to be and proclaim good news to (out), both are blighted without a deep love for God (up). When we try to be merciful without knowing ourselves as objects of divine mercy, we lose the Jesus-touch. The gospel writers are alive to this in Jesus' life, often pointing out how a time of ministry was preceded by a night of prayer.
Interestingly, the 7 tradition works of mercy, were complemented with the 7 spiritual works of mercy. I think the instinct is right. It's the balance of up, in and out which helps his followers smell like Jesus. And this is never more important when we embark on works of mercy in his name.