When I was nine, I stole a big, fat, sugary Boston cream pie from the refrigerator and ate the entire thing behind the trees in the backyard.
It wasn’t mine to take. We didn’t have the open-frig, eat-when-you-want policy that children have today—and we never had desserts that looked like that. But even worse, I didn’t know my mother chose it specially, hid it away and planned to surprise my father with it for his birthday. Not until my neighbor told on me, that is, and I watched my mother’s face turn from surprise, to anger, then to pain.
It sounds like a little thing, today. But it was huge to me then. I hurt my father. Yes, I hurt my mother too, but the surprise was for him. I hurt my father.
“Against thee only have I sinned,” I read in Psalm 51:4, and that day comes flooding back. I couldn’t get it out of my head or heart for the longest time: the shame, the disappointment, the feeling that nothing I could do could restore that surprise. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (vs. 3).
There’s a reason Psalm 51 is the best known of the penitential psalms and one of the best-loved psalms of all. It speaks to the deep pain we feel inside us when we sin, and then it shows us the mercy of God. His is the love of a Father who sees his child’s stricken face – washes the tears away – and then reaches inside to create in us “a clean heart;” to breathe “a new and right spirit” within us.
Read Psalm 51 over and over. What words stand out to you? Here’s what I see:
JOY & GLADNESS.
REJOICE! RESTORE. THE JOY OF THY SALVATION.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love…” – Misereri mei, Deus.
The Misereri has been put to music many times. Along with reading Psalm 51, you may want to meditate while listening. Here are some very different versions, from the sublime Misereri by Allegri to the more modern renditions of Keith Green and the Sons of Korah. Do you have a favorite you can share?
Misereri, by Gregorio Allegri
Psalm 51, by Sons of Korah
Create in Me a Clean Heart, by Keith Green
* * * * * * *
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 51 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.
- Read the Introduction to this series here.
- Download Praying the Penitential Psalms-download here.
- Read more about lectio divina here.
© 2014 Sarah Christmyer
+ + + + + + +
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.