Word of the Day: CLEAN

Word of the Day: CLEAN

I’ve done this one before, but I am thinking these days about the Beatitudes, whose first seven blessings appear to me to have the form of verses of Hebrew poetry, as the following: “Blessed are the CLEAN of heart, for they shall see God.” It would divide roughly like this:

Blessed the-CLEAN(pl)-heart for they-shall-see God.

Jesus must have in mind that deeply moving verse from the psalm of the repentant David: “A clean heart create in me, O God, and a right spirit renew in my inward parts,” LEV MAHOR BARA-LI, ELOHIM. The verb BARA, CREATE, is in Scripture predicated of God alone, as in the first words of Genesis: B’RESHITH BARA ELOHIM, etc.: In the beginning God CREATED. David prays for a cleansing, as when he says, “Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be made CLEAN,” using the same word. But it is a more radical thing still, not to have the old heart scrubbed up, but to have a CLEAN heart CREATED within. That is like what the prophets will later say, as in Ezekiel — when God promises to take away the people’s hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh instead. It is a moral and spiritual RE-CREATION, not just a moral reform.

What would it be like, to have a CLEAN heart? Here we touch upon the secrets of man’s encounter with the divine, the holy. The bush burns before Moses’ eyes, but it is not consumed; it is like the refiner’s fire in the final verses of Malachi. You cannot approach the divine while you are ritually UNCLEAN, with leprosy, blood, or filth. The prophets will urge, again and again, that the people circumcise their hearts, just as David says, that the sacrifice God loves best is that of a humble and contrite heart.

A person with a CLEAN heart, Jesus says, will “see God.” We can approach this from the dark side, thus: His heart will not be troubled, as a stream dark with sand and mud, or skies lowering with clouds. A person with a CLEAN heart will see things cleanly, and maybe that means he can see even sinners without the sin entering into his imagination to tempt, to roil, to stir up with a wrong kind of anger, or to cast gloom over his eyes. So such a person will be like Mary, “younger than sin,” though not at all naive. When we aren’t spending so much time seeing clouds, mud, troubled seas, dark countenances, and deeds of blood, even when these things are not the products of our imagination or the results of a bad will, what shines out everywhere is light: and so the CLEAN of heart see God. The Welsh folk hymn says that the CLEAN HEART, the CALON LAN (LAN = the lenited form for GLAN, CLEAN), is richer than wealth and fairer than the lilies; DIM OND CALON LAN ALL CANU, CANU ‘R DYDD A CHANU ‘R NOS: Nothing but the CLEAN heart can sing, sing in the day, and sing at night.

The Indo European word has to do with what is CLEAR and BRIGHT: think of clean rushing streams, or clean linen newly washed and scrubbed and bleached and left to dry in the warm Mediterranean sun. Anglo Saxon CLAENE was also an adverb, meaning PURELY, as in FULLY, ENTIRELY: a use we still have, here and there, as in “I CLEAN FORGOT.” In German, the meaning veered toward what was delicate and pretty, hence KLEIN = LITTLE.