A Moment to Reflect

14 July 2020

A Moment to Reflect -61

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

One of my sisters lives in the Highlands. She has a large and beautiful garden, a testament to her creativity and twenty years of very hard work. Over the years I’ve taken many photographs there. I love the overall effect of each of the various areas of her garden, and how they all work together, but what I enjoy most of all is getting up very close and personal to some of the individual plants and flowers to explore their intricate beauty. And I don’t only choose the obvious ‘picturesque’ subjects, such as the flamboyant red rose, or the dramatic blue iris: I also look for plants that are less immediately photogenic, but which are nevertheless still worthy of close attention.

And so today as I restart my ‘moments for reflection’ after a short break, I want to share with you a picture of lichen growing on the branches of a tree in my sister’s garden. 

It may not be the kind of picture you would want to hang on your living room wall but to me it looks stunningly beautiful.

Most forms of lichen will struggle to survive, or simply not grow at all, in polluted air. But the air in that part of the Highlands is so pure that all sorts of lichen are abundant and spectacular. Lichens are very reliable indicators of pollution, described by some as “living monitors of air quality.” Their presence indicates a certain level of purity.

At the very beginning of lockdown, when there was so little pollution-generating traffic on the roads and in the sky, I think many of us noticed that the air was immediately much cleaner. We could see everything more clearly. We could breathe more easily.

Of course, purity is not simply the absence of things that are bad: it is the presence of all that is good.

The American writer and poet, Antonio Liccione, has said, “The closest thing to Heaven, is having a peaceful mind, and a beautiful, pure heart.” 

But how do we measure purity of heart and mind and spirit? 

Perhaps the ‘lichens of the soul’ are things like integrity, kindness, forgiveness and mercy, and other Christlike qualities that will only grow in the fresh air of God’s Spirit?

Reflect on this and on these words from Henri Nouwen:

The prayer of the heart is indeed the way to the purity of heart that gives us eyes to see the reality of our existence. This purity of heart allows us to see more clearly, not only our own needy, distorted, and anxious self but also the caring face of our compassionate God. When that vision remains clear and sharp, it will be possible to move into the midst of a tumultuous world with a heart at rest. It is this restful heart that will attract those who are groping to find their way through life. When we have found our rest in God, we can do nothing other than minister. God’s rest will be visible wherever we go and to whomever we meet. And before we speak any words, the Spirit of God, praying in us, will make his presence known and gather people into a new body, the body of Christ himself.” – Henri Nouwen