Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Clean Heart

Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offense.
Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me.
For I know my offense; my sin is always before me.
Against you alone have I sinned;
I have done such evil in your sight
That you are just in your sentence,
blameless when you condemn.
True, I was born guilty, a sinner,
even as my mother conceived me.
Still, you insist on sincerity of heart;
in my inmost being teach me wisdom.
Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure;
wash me, make me whiter than snow.
Let me hear sounds of joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Turn away your face from my sins;
blot out all my guilt.
A clean heart create for me, God;
renew in me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from your presence,
nor take from me your holy spirit.
Restore my joy in your salvation;
sustain in me a willing spirit.

-Psalm 51: 3-14

Well, I have to say this week’s Lent readings from Abbey of the Arts are tapping into my fury at a God of judgment and condemnation. My early personal story contains a history of God principally being defined by fear and rarely offering unconditional love. I also struggle with the notion of being “sinner(s) even as (our) mother(s) conceived (us).”

Today I wonder about the Psalmist and consider perhaps he wrote from his own inner voice of condemnation – passing the buck to God as the One who blames us for sin. For most human beings, it’s much easier to blame outside circumstances or other people rather than look inside and hold our own responsibility. Personally, I would prefer to “blame” myself rather than worship a vengeful God who creates sinners by design.

I’m much more inclined to start with Genesis 1:31 and hear the resounding, “it was very good” than “...born guilty, a sinner, even as my mother conceived me.” Where does the latter fit with “it was very good”?

Lest you think I believe everything is sweet hearts and rosy flowers, I know it is true that we “sin.” We turn away from God. We turn away from ourselves. We turn away from others. The cloak of darkness shrouds us tighter and tighter, especially when we listen to those voices of condemnation and evil. We move toward hate – hating ourselves and thus hating others. I cannot reconcile the discrepancy (and ensuing theological debate) between Genesis and this Psalm other than to consider it as man’s influence in the writing. Perchance he writes from a mind riddled with guilt, thus momentarily forgetting the goodness and light I believe resides in each of us.

This Lenten season, my turning is toward God – toward my inner most self – the one who shows mercy and compassion. If I truly forgive myself knowing all that I have done wrong and felt and been, how can I not forgive others? How can I not find rest and have my joy restored?

By being more compassionate toward myself and thus others, I move toward God. We are all created with a Divine spark – perhaps it is hidden in the clean heart this Psalmist begs for.

I'ao Valley River © lucy
Maui graffiti © lucy


claire bangasser said...

I am with you on struggling with 'the notion of being sinner(s) even as (our) mother(s) conceived (us)...

For having done a few things I am not proud of, I find this psalm fitting a certain longing for forgiveness, whether Godde's or my own.

I like very much your two concluding paragraphs. Basically I agree with everything you say.

Thank you for good challenging thoughts.


Maureen said...

I, too, have difficulty accepting that God would crush bones and turn away His face if we are made in His own image.

I find solace in a wonderful poem in Love Poems from God attributed to Meister Eckhart: "It is a lie--any talk of God / that does not / comfort / you." And also in this one: "How long will grown men and women in this world/ keep drawing in their coloring books / an image of God that / makes them sad?"

roxanne s. sukhan said...

I choose to believe that its never God who turns his face away from us; rather, its we, who turn away from Him. God will knock on the door of my soul, but it's entirely up to me to answer that knock, that call.

I love the notion of lent as a time during which we turn toward god.

Abbey of the Arts said...

Rich reflection here lucy, I appreciate your response. In the past I have done a lot of work with lament texts in the Hebrew scriptures and essentially what I came to was that the poetry acts as a container for our feelings of rage, anger, shame, hurt, etc. These were of course written by human beings, and the psalms are a way of giving voice to some of our innermost turmoil in a sacred context. God can handle it. I couldn't agree more than a punitive image of God is destructive to us, so how do we reclaim the sacred practice of lament in ways that are life-giving? Can we claim this language that often lives inside of us and offer it a place to be transformed?

Country Parson said...

Perhaps you would find The Prayer of Manasseh to be of some interest. You can find it in the Apocrypha. Before reading it keep in mind that Manasseh was the most evil king of Israel.

Jennifer said...


I cannot tell you how wonderful it feels to read this today. I have begun to realize man's influence in things and do not discount the divinity within scriptures such as these, but have recognized that by relating to the people of the Bible as human beings (the same as me)I find myself more INSPIRED.

It hit me for the very first time when I was preparing for a children's bible story and during the preparation my daughter said, "God said that?". It was in relation to destruction of man in the flood/Noah and building the Ark.

WOW! Responsible for her at this time I decided to focus on the 4 gospels as we build our spirit and until she can understand and rightly divide these words.

I appreciate this very much today Lucy. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Diane Walker said...

This psalm is a perfect example of religious thinking in the time before Jesus. The whole idea of some angry God, out there, separate and punitive, is so unlike the loving presence Jesus came to share. The beauty of the psalms is their incredible humanness -- we've all so been in that self-flagellating space -- and it can be healing to give voice to that despair -- or allow a psalm to voice it for us. But we don't have to stay there; that's the joy of it.

Dianna Woolley said...

Your indignation at the psalmist's groveling spirit and fear is well-placed for me. A beautiful post!

The ancient people suffered tremendously in naming, honoring, and understanding God and I'm grateful that scholarship, time, continued worship of God and Jesus' teachings has brought me to a different place in the modern age where I/we can rant and shake our fists at God comforted in God's ability to care for us no matter what we say or do!


Tess said...

I read the psalm and your post in that order. In the psalm I barely even noticed the phrases about being born guilty. Familiarity, perhaps, that I ignored them. What struck me were the lines "Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure, wash me, make me whiter than snow. Let me hear sounds of joy and gladness;". Those seemed to me to speak purely of renewal, leading to the strength and beauty of the clean heart and steadfast spirit.

Strangely, perhaps, I have little problem reconciling the imagery and language of many of the psalms with their collective underlying message as a body of praise, lamentation, repentance and reflection. It's an approach born of a different age and mindset.

Karen said...

I've let go of the idea of a vengeful, judgemental God--and I feel a much better woman for it! Of COURSE we are loved--and I believe that we are loved no matter what. Most of us love our own children no matter what (maybe not like what they're doing, but love them? oh yes!). Why would we expect any less of God? I think it's Man's judgement and vengence we need to worry about.

Barbara said...

Your comments are most interesting, lucy, and they express well the very real discomfort we have with some of the Psalmist's words. I used to attempt to "sanitize" the words of some psalms to fit my alleged Christian sensibilities, but, as I get older, I wonder if we are deceiving ourselves a bit if we assume we have nothing within us that resonates with these words. Remember, the "voice" in this psalm is that of the Psalmist and not God's. King David had much to feel guilty about, yet he was beloved of God. Perhaps his realization of God's love, despite his betrayals, is what brought him to ventilate as he did.

kigen said...

What if we don't need to forgive ourselves. The mistakes, whatever they are, are fact. A mentor once told me to simply give them over to the present moment. Imagine, the present moment, this angel of grace standing in front of you, and ordering you to do so, like a parent to a child. GIVE THEM TO ME, you hesitate, GIVE ME YOUR SINS she says, RIGHT NOW! And so you do, but you've held something back. So she says, AND THAT TOO, damn it, AND THAT, right now. And so you keep handing them over. All of sudden you're without sins, naked as the day you were born! Hooray! You are loved! 100 Hugs!

Beth P. said...

Dear Lucy--
Great reflections and discussion--thank you so much. I'm going to post the URL to this post to mine. Let me know if that doesn't work.

Come on over and join our rebel band! It's 'hot' topics here in Bend...and your post is so reassuring that we're not alone!

Blessings of prophetic voice...