Every Friday during Lent, I will provide a brief guide for reflecting on one of the seven penitential psalms. For centuries, these have been a powerful source of prayer and reflection during Lent. Together they invite us to recognize our sin, express our sorrow to God and ask his forgiveness, and experience the healing touch of his merciful love.
Suggestions for using lectio divina as an aid to prayer follow the reflection.
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Read Psalm 6, in which the psalmist pours out his heart to God in a desperate plea for relief from an illness that seems to have brought him near to death.
Psalm 6 draws us into the heart of a man who is suffering. It is a “prayer for recovery from grave illness” – but it hints of other kinds of suffering, too: that of a “sorely troubled” soul, and the kind that comes from “foes” and “workers of evil.” How are we to read this — particularly today, the first Friday of Lent, when it calls to us as a penitential psalm?
Old Testament Israel saw a connection between sin and evil and physical illness. Jesus draws on this when he heals people who are sick to illustrate the far deeper healing of forgiveness that he brings with his kingdom. We can pray this psalm in physical illness or when we’re under attack from the outside, because God is our help and our healer in all sorts of situations. But it applies equally to the soul-sick anguish caused by sin. If it were not for sin, those other troubles would not be present. They are a sign and often a cause of separation from God.
There is a beautiful paradox at the start of this psalm. “O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger…. But thou, O Lord, how long?”
God “punishes” sin by allowing its consequences to overtake us. This is the “tough love” of a Father who longs for his children to be whole and full of life. He stands ready always with open arms, ready to forgive for the sake of his “steadfast love” (vs. 4). The word in Hebrew is hesed, “lovingkindness.” It is the deep, faithful, merciful love of a true father. Take to him the ills of your soul. He will hear the sound of your weeping and accept your prayer. And your enemies – whether they be real or imagined, physical or spiritual – shall be “ashamed and sorely troubled” while you are set free.
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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 6 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
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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.