“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
At Orthodox funerals it is customary to sing, as we did, the gospel Beatitudes. This I believe is because those who have fought the good fight and died in good conscience by the grace of God have experienced something of these blessings...
Philosophers like Kierkegaard and spiritual writers since St. Paul have struggled with the Beatitudes, especially “Blessed are the pure of heart.” Some have written that purity is the single-minded focus with their whole heart and mind on what is most important in life, that pearl of great price someone would sell everything to gain. Many have simply reduced it to the physical. Others say the "pure of heart" are those who have been cleansed from the inside out by great suffering or great love. Like gold or silver that has been refined by fire, they have come to terms with the traumas of life and have become whole and spiritually mature. They often show a certain innocence and directness. They seem to understand something that others only wonder about. In one way or another, maybe they all have seen something of God and experienced the divine reality.
Sister Rachel did exemplify the joy that comes with purity of heart. You could see it in her more and more the further she went in life. She would laugh and say “That’s ridiculous.” Before she slipped away, her daughter Susan asked whether she wanted a sip of water, and immediately she opened her eyes and spoke up, “No, some beer.” Our friend Janet McGhee had it right when she wrote, “I will always remember Sister Rachel's warm embracing heart, sweet smile, porcelain skin, bright white hair, and beautiful soul.”
After celebrating the life of Sister Rachel last evening, we may still feel just as sad today, missing her. We continue to grieve our loss, and in a grown-up way we know, as someone remarked, that we have become orphaned. Some may regret not having said some things or wished they had done more things together with her.
Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. He sighed and prayed for Lazarus and called him back to life for a while longer and in an utterly amazing way. We too sigh and pray today for Rachel and for all the departed. We pray for each other as well. We believe that something no eye has seen or ear heard or mind imagined is for real. It can be tasted by human beings in a timeless moment, and when we lie dying, and in the mystery of eternal life.
The example of Sr. Rachel’s life and death is a bittersweet offering to us: it confirms for us that our own struggles and disappointments, like hers, do purify us; our own love, generosity, and self-sacrifice—will give us a fullness and abundance of spirit and life.
We believe, and we know, that Sister Rachel’s love and our love for her endures past the grave and forever. As the ancient biblical canticle, the Song of Songs, says, “Love is stronger than death...Love no flood can quench, no torrents drown