1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness *
and cleanse me from my sin.
2 For I know my transgressions, *
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you only have I sinned *
and done what is evil in your sight.
5 And so you are justified when you speak *
and upright in your judgment
6 Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, *
a sinner from my mother’s womb.
7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me, *
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.
8 Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; *
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.
9 Make me hear of joy and gladness, *
that the body you have broken may rejoice.
10 Hide your face from my sins *
and blot out all my iniquities.
11 Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
and renew a right spirit within me.
12 Cast me not away from your presence *
and take not your holy Spirit from me.
13 Give me the joy of your saving help again *
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
Lent: A matter of the heart
Lent is upon us. How did that happen? Okay, I may be a church geek, but I spent time over the past few days looking at the liturgy for Ash Wednesday, getting ready for the 40 days. Have a look (p. 264 in the Book of Common Prayer). There’s a lot in there to serve as guide for the upcoming season, and for all of life.
There’s an opening invitation to Lent which helps us think about what we might think about for the next 40 days: self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, scripture engagement. There are scriptures that describe the kind of religious observance God seems to find interesting. (Hint: It has a lot to do with helping those in need.) And there’s the challenge put forth by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He said: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Lent asks us to think about what we treasure, where we give our heart, mindful of the desert father who said: Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.
No doubt, there’s a complexity to the season. It’s a lot more than simply an effort to be more miserable than thou. It does indeed call us to repentance, to acknowledge ways we’ve messed up. We are all familiar with these. At the same time, the season celebrates new life. The word Lent I’m told has some kind of connection to an ancient word for Spring. It’s a season for spiritual growth. It’s a season not only of challenge but formation. So in the course of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, after ashes have been administered, the congregation turns to Psalm 51, a psalm which captures the many dimensions of the season of Lent. (see above) Here’s what struck me about that psalm over the past few days.
It has everything to do with the heart. The psalmist recognizes the way he has messed up. Tradition has it that the psalm reflects the regret of David in the wake of his murderous, adulterous, duplicitous interactions. Some hero of the faith! The psalmist understands that God knows all about that. On some level, the psalmist believes that God’s grace is sufficient to rise above all that.
The psalmist asks: Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. It’s a reminder, as springtime approaches, of one of the reasons for the season: new life. Wherever we’ve been, whatever we’ve done, whatever secrets we harbor, whatever shame we harbor, needless pain we bear, peace we often forfeit can be brought to this season. It’s a chance for a new start.
The biblical record indicates that it’s never too late to begin again. Abraham and Sarah, who practiced their own deceptions, didn’t start a family until they were in their 90’s. Jacob, chief biblical creep who swindled his brother and tricked his blind father, became father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses became a leader after 40 years in exile, prompted by his own murder of an Egyptian. And then there’s David, who despite the mess he’d made, was regarded as the greatest king of Israel.
As Lent begins, do a spiritual check-up on your heart. How is it doing? Where are you giving your heart? Do you need to begin again? That’s God’s work, thank God. And because it’s God’s work, that new heart is always a possibility. Always. Let that new heart, that new start be your prayer for this holy season. And take to heart the final words of the psalm, that at the end of it all, there is the promise of joy, the product of God’s bountiful spirit.
RenewalWorks for Me is a wonderful resource for a spiritual check-up and guided practices to deepen your faith. Try it as your Lenten practice!
RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.
Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor. Learn more at renewalworks.org