Our Greatest Fear and Deepest Desire

by | Jun 22, 2021 | 6 Pure in Heart

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My greatest fear and deepest desire both came clear in the dark night.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8).

On cold nights when the lonely present weighed a ton and the bleak future piled on, a question arose. How can a merciful God remain so silent and hidden?  If God is love, why did God not break through the veil and extend the eye-to-eye intimacy for which I longed, for which no human seemed available?  But no voice, no Face of God brightened the night.

Then I knew clear as the moon that my deepest desire was to see the face of God.

Yet, the ancients understood that getting too close to the divine burns a person like a meteor hurtling sunward.  Thus, the people at the foot of Mount Sinai cowered in the valley while Moses visited God in the blazing heights, and Moses descended glowing like an ember (Exodus 34:29-35).  Yet, God even refused Moses’ request to see the Holy Face (Exodus 33: 17-23).  God keeps distance because the Face is too beautiful, the radiance overwhelming.   So the veil of night is a veil of mercy.

In which case, seeing the face of God prompts the greatest fear.

So how does it bless the pure in heart to promise that they will see God?  Augustine prayed, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”  Coming near God’s face answers our root longing.  Our greatest fear is also our deepest desire.

Purity of heart gathers up the self-surrender of the poor in spirit, the letting go of those who mourn, the self-denial of the meek, and the loving attention of the merciful.  Holy people settle deep in deserts to focus that inward gathering and gazing for the Face.  But here in the traffic and noise of cities and towns, cold shocks galvanize the heart and make us vigilant for the Face: the call in the middle of the night, the other side of the bed gone empty, or the boss’s memo to clean out the office and go.

The blessing does not come gently.  Jacob saw God’s Face and lived, but only after wrestling with the Dark Figure all night and coming away with a new name and a bad limp.  Then in the morning light, he saw God’s Face again in the beaming smile of his welcoming brother Esau whom he more than half expected to kill him that day (Genesis 32:22-33:11).

Whatever pain you suffer now, let God clear your eyes and cleanse your heart with it.  Then, like Jacob, you will march boldly into your night and your morning.

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  1. Michael Parnell

    The Jacob story reminds me that after the encounter with God he never walked the same. I hope I walk differently over these years of seeking encounter for the betterment of the people I serve.


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