The final penitential psalm, Psalm 143, takes us to the foot of the cross on Good Friday.
The psalmist — perhaps David, on the run from his own son Absolom — has reached the end of his rope. His “spirit faints,” his heart is “appalled” (vs 4). He feels trapped and abandoned even by God, on the verge of death.
Sitting in darkness, crushed to the ground, the psalmist turns to the Lord. My own temptation is to wallow in depression and doubt, to sink further into the pit. That’s why I love praying the psalms. Meditating on those first 4 verses, I find I relate. I enter into the suffering, sink low in my soul. Then verses 5-6 snap me out of it.
They give us a recipe for a changed heart:
- I remember the days of old
- I meditate on all that thou hast done;
- I muse on what thy hands have wrought.
- I stretch out my hands to thee;
- My soul thirsts for thee like a parched land.
Do you see how his attention moves? From being crushed in darkness, eyes on the ground and the pit – to recalling God’s past goodness and faithfulness – to meditating on those things – to stretching upward, every fiber of his being seeking help from the Lord. Instead of drinking the dust, his mouth is now open to the source of living water.
Remember. Meditate. Muse. Stretch out. Thirst.
Today, Good Friday:
- I remember what God did to solve our problems. He took our sins, our pain, our suffering on himself.
- I meditate on what that meant. When the wave of death rolled in, he bowed his head, dove under it.
- I muse on the result. He allowed it to crush him – then rose triumphant on the other side.
- I choose to stretch out. To lift my eyes from my sins and troubles and put them on God. I remember what he has done and stretch my hands up toward the cross.
- I thirst for you, O God! As your Son thirsted on the cross.
In your death, deliver me O Lord. Take my pains, my sins, and let me rise with you to life!
Without a death – there can be no resurrection.
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To incorporate lectio divina into your prayer and better recognize where you have sinned, express your sorrow, and ask forgiveness:
Pray: Incline Thine ear, O Lord, and show me mercy, for I am a sinner before Thee.
Read Psalm 143 all the way through several times. At least one time, read it out loud.
Reflect on the same psalm: read it slowly, lingering where your heart draws you.
Consider these questions, writing your answers in a journal if desired:
- What stands out to you in this Psalm?
- What do you hear God saying to you, personally?
Respond: What will you do about what you have heard? Respond to God in prayer.
Rest in his presence.
Close: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
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2016 update: Set aside ten minutes a day during Lent for a “spiritual cleanse” using my new journal based on these posts, Create in Me a Clean Heart: 10 Minutes a Day in the Penitential Psalms, available in paperback and on Kindle.
Barbara Ann Baugh says
Thank you Sarah for these Lenten reflections I will now reflect on one Penetential Psalm each Friday of the year. I have decided to attempt to incorporate other psalms into my prayer life also. For summer I have chosen the theme of “Happiness” I will attempt to incorporate these guidelines you have shared with us , Thank you again. I will keep you in my prayers
Sarah Christmyer says
What a lovely idea! If you would like to share what you learn, I would love to hear from you later this summer. Blessings!
Mary Beveridge says
I have severe depression, a social anxiety disorder and a number of “invisible” handicaps as a result of a large tumor removed 12 years ago. God let me know that I would have a long and hard recovery. He was right, it was 11 years and seven months, followed be a kind of “knitting” of my mind which now enables me to cognitively do what is more normal.
Your emails have not always been opened because although the depression is now medically controlled, I have to once again try and establish a routine for living…and I have had chronic fatigue as a result of coping with the handicaps.
Today I was able to open this one. Truly it overwhelmed my being. Although I have gone to confession during these years, it has been a sort of disastrous experience for me. Planning on going during our Divine Mercy Confessions and Mass, this particular sin has been bothering me. I find it hard to distinguish between my body’s needs for rest and sleep and when I might be using that as an excuse to omit things that I should do. This article has helped me so much and I am so grateful to have some kind of direction to assist me that I intend to print off all of the seven deadly sins and use them as part of an examination of conscience at least bi-weekly. Thank you so very much.
Sarah Christmyer says
You are so very welcome. Thank you for letting me know. I will pray for you especially now with Divine Mercy coming up, that the Lord will renew you in his grace.
andrea duguay says
Thank you For your reflections during this stay in place/ quarantine time. I was thrilled to hear you quoting the Psalms as I just started reading them yesterday. I will be sure to include your pattern and insights as I continue reading the Psalms in the days ahead.
I also like the idea of choosing a theme to work on this summer. Thank you all for all you do to help us on our faith journey. Happy Easter! He is risen ! Alleluia