A Thought for the Day - September 28, 2023
Yesterday, I found myself walking a tightrope between various responsibilities and commitments; a balancing act that comes with being a middle-aged father, husband, and minister. The day was already filled to the brim when I added the task of preparing to grade the standard ordination exams for aspiring ministers within my denomination next week. The weight of these obligations divided my focus, making it challenging to stay firmly rooted in the present moment.
As evening descended and our Bible study convened, I had completed my preparations, but my mind remained scattered among the complexities of the Hebrew word “nephesh” (a word we usually translate “soul” in English but is far more profound, encompassing the fullness of the living being, and is other times translated as “heart,” “mind,” “life,” and more—it is a focus on my grading exams next week), the intense teachings of the beatitudes, family matters, and the ever-restless chatter of my ADHD mind.
When I was asked to delve into "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God," my response was a meandering journey, my attention tugged in multiple directions. In the realm of Zoom, I understand that a lack of clarity can swiftly disengage the audience, a reality that I, too, grapple with during online meetings.
After my rambles confused some, bored others, and finally helped a few, I was back where we had left off the previous week, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
The irony of the situation was impossible to ignore. There I was, wrestling with a divided attention, concerned that I was losing people in the Bible study, stressed about preparing as well as I could to grade exegesis ordination exams, and anxious of next week when I grade exams, do my work, and travel to a friend’s funeral. These responsibilities weigh heavily on me, fueled by an innate desire to share the profound wisdom of the Bible, making it come alive that it guide souls toward the divine; and to honor the dedicated individuals called to this sacred ministry to which I have also been called.
In the teachings of Jesus, purity of heart extends far beyond the avoidance of impure thoughts. It beckons us to cultivate an unwavering devotion to God. In that moment, my heart felt divided. Amidst scattered thoughts, I grappled with concerns about maintaining the group's focus while unfocused myself, momentarily sidelining the profound words of Jesus.
Purity of heart, as intended by Jesus, doesn't necessitate retreat to solitary mountaintops or distant sanctuaries. It doesn't call for isolation from society. Instead, it invites us to disentangle ourselves from the cacophony of our days, to avoid getting lost in the crowd, ensnared in past sorrows, or entangled in future anxieties. Purity of heart urges us to return to the present moment with our whole “nephesh,” the only moment that truly exists.
Purity of heart is about seeking refuge in each breath. The Hebrew word for "breath" is also “nephesh,” again signifying the fullness of life itself and our divine connection. It's about coming back to the now, where the profound gift of existence unfolds, reminiscent of God breathing life into Adam.
In the act of being present, we discover an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the simple miracle of being here and now. Each breath represents a new creation, a moment when God breathes life into us again. It is in those moments when our entire being resonates with a whisper of gratitude that we may catch fleeting glimpses of God's presence in every corner of existence.