The Pure See God
"When the man of pure heart looks at the World of Nature…at the sky, the earth, and the sea…[the] multitudes of birds...every kind of animal...the variety of plants on it, the abundance of fish in the sea...he is immediately amazed and exclaims with the Prophet David: 'How great are Thy works, O Lord! In wisdom Thou made them all’” (St. Nektarios of Aegina).
My grandmother had the gift of seeing. I do not mean she was prophetic or that she got by without glasses. She could spend hours simply watching a little flower, birds in a bird bath, or ants carrying crumbs. Everywhere she looked she marveled. She could see, she saw reality as it is, vibrant and charged with the presence of God. Atheism and unbelief are ubiquitous today. The air is so thick with skepticism, it drips on the walls. This has nothing to do with science or reason. We cease to see God, because we lose our purity.
Advent is a time for cleaning the lens of our heart.
"What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet” (Matthew 11:6-8).
The Church challenges us at this time. What are we looking for? Are we spending our life seeking God or are we chasing after the wind?
Picture a reed shaking in a breeze. All you need is a little wind, and the reed bends in its direction. So often, we become just like that reed blowing in the wind.
Nazi officer, Hermann Goering, once explained how easy it is to control the masses. Make them afraid and they will do anything. How often does fear motivate us? How how often do we make our decisions based on fear? How often do we get angry at our loved ones due to fear — fear about money, fear of being hurt, you name it? Fear blinds us.
Sometimes, our pleasures blind us. The belly leads rather than the heart, or the brain. I spoke with a friend recently who has lost his faith. Did he lose it because of new scientific discoveries? No. He lost his faith because he stopped working it. It was not comfortable finding a church. It was much more convenient drinking with friends. Some time goes by, and God and faith have become fuzzy topics to him. He has lost his interest. He cannot see. God wants us to enjoy food and savor wholesome pleasures. The problem is, they so easily get out of balance. When they do, we become lost.
Sometimes, a little talk throws us off. A friend whispers a bad word about someone you respect. Your spouse makes a comment that throws you off. We do not take enough time to listen to one another. We assume and project. This is what harms so many relationships in the world. You get caught up in speculation, and reality takes the back seat. Fear, pleasure, self-interest, gossip, so many decoys blind us from reality, like a reed blowing in the wind.
“But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment?”
What are we looking for? Are we spending our life seeking God or are we chasing after comforts? Too much comfort all the time makes us stupid. It has become very apparent, nowadays, that our country is in a mess. Everyone has different anecdotes about where we have gone wrong and who is to blame — but we miss the whole point. It is very simple.
“Israel grew fat and kicked— becoming fat, bloated, and gorged. He abandoned the God who made him and scorned the Rock of his salvation” (Deuteronomy 32:15).
America is in a food coma — more literally, we are in a stimulus coma. All the noise, television, worldliness, and pleasures are out of sync. Our hearts are stuffed up, there is no room for God.
We went chasing after “a man in soft raiment.” The truth was with John the Baptist. We have his icon here above the altar. He wore camel fur, ate locusts, and slept out on rocks in the desert. He denied the pleasures of the world in order to be attentive to the pleasures of heaven. We are not all called to live like John the Baptist, but we all have to model him to some extent. We all need to become little ascetics.
No one knows how to feast like an Orthodox Christian. The Orthodox are renown all over the world for throwing the best parties. Enjoying good food, delighting in wine, cherishing music and beauty, and giving glory to God for all things — these are central to our faith. We are meant to relish in creation. Nevertheless, we need retreats.
Advent and Lent come to hit the breaks.
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov writes: “The man who would take it into his head to cultivate his land without using farm implements would…labor in vain. Just so, he who wants to acquire virtues without bodily discipline will labor in vain.”
Fr. Thomas Hopko explains: “A human being must fast. The effort enlightens the mind, strengthens the spirit, controls the emotions and tames the passions.”
The Jews had to retreat to the desert, before St. John could direct them towards Christ. We too need to retreat, into the desert of fasting and quiet, and we will discover Christ.
“What went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.”
It is a beautiful world, especially now, in the winter holidays. There is so much to be grateful for. God’s glory in everything is resplendent. His birth in the manger ushers in an eternity of joy. If we can attain purity of heart, we can have it all. If we can cut back from the noise, unplug from worldliness, we will rediscover how to see.
“How great are Thy works, O Lord! In wisdom Thou made them all.”