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Blest Are The Pure In Heart

It snowed on Monday and Dunedin shut down. It wasn't the sort of snow you can go outside and frolic in, but rather the sort that comes in sideways in the face of  a southerly like a cold, wet, sandblaster. We stoked up the fire and read and watched DVDs. It all calmed down a bit on Tuesday, and I was able to go about the things that seemed to be stacked into this week.

On Wednesday I presided at the induction of my successor at St. John's Roslyn. Eric Kyte is an Englishman, born in the same town as Clemency, but a decade later. He arrived to face the worst weather we have had for a good long while, and there were a few local foibles to come to terms with, such as the peculiar little coal burner in the family room of the vicarage and a different way we work hot water systems over here, but by and large he seems to have settled in well and the service was wonderful. The church was full, and the optimism and good humour were palpable. It was good to again be amongst people with whom I have shared so much, but there was for me a definite sense of closure as I gave Eric his license, and placed, quite literally, all my responsibility for that beloved congregation into his capable hands.

On Thursday, with considerably less formality I inducted Gillian Townsley, the new chaplain at St. Hilda's Collegiate, our local Anglican Girl's secondary school. The school in a phase of robustly high morale due in no small part to having an extremely able young principal, Melissa Bell, who will now be teamed with an extremely able young chaplain. The girls listened to the bishop banging on, and read some prayers and sang the school hymn, John Keble's 1866 masterpiece Blest Are The Pure In Heart. The hymn, in a nice little piece of personal synchronicity, voiced something of what had been going on just below the surface for me.

I have been reading the American Episcopal Priest and Spiritual writer Cynthia Bourgeault lately, and, while driving, listening to MP3s of her talking. As I drove to Invercargill and back on Thursday afternoon, she talked about the Beatitudes and, particularly about the 6th one, the one included in John Keble's hymn. She said that the concept of heart in the first century was not quite what we mean by the term today. We speak of heart, as opposed to mind meaning the emotions; so when we read Jesus' words we tend to think he is enjoining us to have pure emotions or good intentions or a lack of guile. In the first century, says Cynthia Bourgeault, it was the liver that was thought to be the seat of emotions. The heart was the seat of intuition and spiritual perception, so, the heart's perception back then meant more like what we would mean when we speak of gut reactions. That means that the beatitude should be paraphrased as Blessed are you when your intuitions are clear, for you shall see God; which suddenly made a lot more sense than the  namby pamby puritanical sense in which I had always read the verse.

Cynthia Bourgeault's interpretation was particularly apposite for me because of the way my spiritual practice has been developing over the last month or so. Spiritual growth happens in a pattern like a flight of stairs: steep and sudden climbs are followed by long flat periods of consolidation before the next step upwards, and I have made one of those vertical ascents of late. The silence which brackets each day has become longer and fuller and richer, and the practice of Centering Prayer, taught by Cynthia and her teacher Thomas Keating is helping me get my intuitions just a little more ordered.

So I sang the Victorian words and followed the principal and her new chaplain out of the chapel and into the wintry sunshine. Someone took some photos and I headed off to the next appointment. Things are solid and hopeful, or so my heart tells me. 


Anonymous said…
I've always taken 'heart' in the Bible (Heb. leb, Gk, kardia) to mean 'mind' or 'thinking, reflective part': 'The fool has said in his heart ...'; cf. Mat 15.19 'out of the heart come evil thoughts'; Mk 11.23, 'does not doubt in his heart' etc. This is a point that John Dobson strongly makes in his excellent primer "Learn New Testament Greek". The NT does have 'dianoia' as well. I don't know if 'gut instinct' or 'intuition' captures that sense - they do sound more like feelings than reasons - unless we follow such reactions through and articulate as best we can why we feel certain ways. An intuition should always have a foundation in fact. I recall also that Kierkegaard said "Purity of heart is to will one thing".

Kelvin Wright said…
Perhaps gut instinct is not as accurate a term as it needs to be: It's mine and not CB's. I'm not sure that instinct is really associated with feeling. I think it is another way of knowing that is neither feeling nor reason. I suspect that often our "reasons" for doing /believing certain things are post hoc rationalisations for what we have decided to do /think /believe for intuitive reasons.

CB talks of Jesus as a recognition event. She asks what was it that made the first disciples follow him: certainly it wasn't that they thought he was the second person of the Trinity, or because they believed he had died to save them. There was some powerful sub or super rational factor about him which they "recognised" - that is, that something they could not clearly articulate was so compelling that they left their homes and nets and families and wandered off into the wilderness with him. This recognition is the perception of the "heart".

I suppose intuition does have a foundation in fact but surely the whole point of intuition is that at the time the intuitive decision is taken, that foundation is unconscious;or even completely unknown. Think for example of the times when we intuitively phone someone on the spur of the moment only to find that they are in a spot of bother. And on what factual basis would someone leave all their security to follow an itinerant rabbi into the Judean desert?

Dianoia seems to have a more abstracted meaning than dokeo: perception, understanding, impulse of the will, but I think its usage is generally connected with something more cerebral than kardia. Dianoia, in use seems to be indistinguishable from nous.

In any event, CBs main point is that heart has a different meaning in the NT than that popularly attached to it today.
Anonymous said…
"And on what factual basis would someone leave all their security to follow an itinerant rabbi into the Judean desert?"

Jesus doesn't arrive 'in vacuo'; there is a pre-existing expectation that he seems to fulfil, though certainly not as anticipated. As I read through Mark's gospel again in my daily reading, I note the perplexity of the disciples as the surprising character of their leader is disclosed. I often reflect that *why people come to Christ doesn't really matter (it can be from the most self-centred or needy of reasons); what matters is how they allow Him to shape their discipleship.

I agree there are often post hoc rationalisations for the decisions we make; sometimes also we have a pre-conscious grasp of an issue and can only articulate it afterwards. What I long for is to understand my decisions or actions *before I make them. The danger is that talk of 'intuition' (among the post-modern, psychologically inclined) or 'the Spirit's leading' (among the charismatic) can be a cover for acting out of prejudice, fear or self-seeking, without the need to account for one's actions. 'Cerebral' isn't a dirty word! - it just means using your brain and giving reasons for your actions (what Aristotle called the distinguishing feature of the rational being).

Yes, by all means let us teach more clearly the biblical meaning of 'heart' - which, in the NT, I think, combines the senses of will and intellect, in the face of the continual romantic cult of sentiment that has attached to the word for centuries in the west.

Kelvin Wright said…
Brian I agree about people chasing their tails around and around and getting nowhere as "intuition" or "the spirit's leading" is hopelessly confusted with all manner of unresolved unconscious motivation, but surely this is Jesus' point: Blest are the pure in heart. Blessed are those who have managed to garner enough self knowledge to be able to sort wheat from chaff in their various ways of knowing.

The question is how to do this; and I'm not sure reason is the answer. Of course our intuitions and heart motivations need to be reasonable, but our reason is as capable of corruption by our own inner disjunctions as any other form of knowing.

I think the way to purify our hearts is prayer - in the broadest sense. Particularly the regular daily practice of personal kenosis; of learning to die to self.
Kelvin Wright said…
I meant to say "confused", but actually I like "confusted" better.
Anonymous said…
"The question is how to do this; and I'm not sure reason is the answer. Of course our intuitions and heart motivations need to be reasonable, but our reason is as capable of corruption by our own inner disjunctions as any other form of knowing.

I think the way to purify our hearts is prayer - in the broadest sense. Particularly the regular daily practice of personal kenosis; of learning to die to self."

Can't argue with that! "Search me O Lord and see if there is any wicked way within' is a good motto; knowing how to distrust ourselves and seeking first the Kingdom of God have to be among the lodestars of guidance. I think of dear old John Stott whose life of service reflected great modesty and constant focus on Christ.

every blessing,
Anonymous said…
Hi! Thanks for adding in "young" to your lovely words!! ;)
ElizH said…
Great blog and discussion. Thank you Kelvin and Brian. Much to think about.
2 Timothy 2:7: "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything", and 2Cor 4:6: "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness, has shone light in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

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