April 2: “Kavanah,” the direction of the heart

by Candace Lombardi

Lenten Devotional 2011In reading the scriptural passages for today, I’m reminded of a Hebrew word: KAVANAH. It means intention or direction of the heart when one is engaged in prayer or sacred ritual.

I think Jesus and Paul are admonishing their respective audiences to be mindful of Kavanah. Jesus seems impatient with the Pharisees for holding fast to the traditions of the elders because in doing so they “leave the commandment of God.” What is the direction of their hearts? Jesus quotes Isaiah about such hypocrites: “This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”

In their smug, nearsighted belief that they hold the key to salvation because of their scrupulous adherence to ritualistic laws, they overlook the elemental needs and suffering of the common man.

Paul points out to the Corinthians that baptism and partaking of the Lord’s Supper are not enough to guarantee salvation, any more than corresponding acts sufficed for the ancient Hebrews. He warns his followers against being overly confident in this regard.

What is the direction of their hearts, what are their intentions and what are ours: are they tightly focused inward on the rubrics and “staging” of sacramental ceremony in the belief that such involvement alone saves or are our hearts mindful of the fundamental precepts inherent within the sacraments? Are our intentions to incorporate these precepts into our daily lives thus influencing how we think and behave toward the world and our fellow man?

The answer seems obvious. Yet, I think as with the Pharisees and Corinthians we need to be reminded from time to time.

Genesis 47:27-31, Genesis 48:1-7
Psalms 87, 90
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Mark 7:1-23