The Greek word for pure is katharos and the word itself suggests catharsis, purging, purifying and cleansing. We clean ourselves because we are dirty, or unclean yet we prefer not to acknowledge that we are unclean. This modern world is obsessed with cleanliness and it is suggested that we lose our resistance to bacterial infection because of this. So it is not a matter of being clean but the process of ‘cleaning’ that gives us an experience of God.
The dictionary tells us that catharsis is “according to Aristotle, a purifying of the emotions that is brought about in the audience of a tragic drama through the evocation of intense fear and pity.” Again, we can see that it is the experience not the conclusion that produces the results. Yet there is something in us that does not want to engage with the experience, we always want the experience to end.
We might wonder why it is the pure in heart and not the pure in mind, or the pure in heart and mind, who will have this experience of God. This could be because our heart and mind are becoming one – or should be. They become one through love, love that develops out of a highly developed conscience. Conscience is our ability to share the experience of others; it is not only a sense of what is right or wrong. It is about experiencing both what is right and what it wrong, and then experiencing the results of our action in ourselves first. This means, for instance, that we wouldn’t laugh at someone so as to offend them because we would feel the discomfort of that offence first.
Then we are told that if we experience this catharsis we will see God. Now St John quotes Jesus saying, “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” Jn 1:18
Could it be that if we purify ourselves that God will see us? The Greek text could be read this way. Oti autoi ton theon opsontai – for them God shall see. Rev Mario Schoenmaker once said that when God looks at his creation all he sees is Christ. This would suggest that until we experience the presence of Christ in us and in this world, which would be totally cathartic, God does not see us. Perhaps we could not withstand the power of God seeing us. Perhaps it would be like our present experience of sunlight; it burns our skin and destroys our sight if we look directly at it.
Expanded we shall be if we can bear the cleansing necessary to withstand the gaze of God.