Today's lectionary reading: Psalm 51:1-12; Habakkuk 3:2-13; John 12:1-11
Selected passage for reflection: Psalm 51:1-13 (CEB)
1 Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love! Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion! 2 Wash me completely clean of my guilt; purify me from my sin! 3 Because I know my wrongdoings, my sin is always right in front of me. 4 I’ve sinned against you—you alone. I’ve committed evil in your sight. That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict, completely correct when you issue your judgment. 5 Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin, from the moment my mother conceived me. 6 And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places; you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.[a]
7 Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and celebration again; let the bones you crushed rejoice once more. 9 Hide your face from my sins; wipe away all my guilty deeds! 10 Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me! 11 Please don’t throw me out of your presence; please don’t take your holy spirit away from me. 12 Return the joy of your salvation to me and sustain me with a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways, and sinners will come back to you.
“Create in me a Clean Heart” was my daily, sometimes hourly, prayer at BreakThru House, a long-term residential recovery program in Georgia. I remember clearly the early mornings in the small house next to the daycare; up in the slanted roof attic room that I shared with “June” from Snellville. I would wake up early. It was the only time I could be alone. I would spread out my affirmation cards and small bits of paper that had decorative prayers on them. I would spread out my fingers in downward facing dog and prostrate my body in what I now understand was the connection of mind and body in somatic prayer.
“Create in me a clean heart.” That was the prayer of an addict returning from the edge of oblivion to grasping for hope, serenity and one more day clean. That was the submission of a person who thought that life was over; one who was willing to end it all; someone who was so accustomed to self-abuse that self harm that the red flags were not enough warning. My water was turned off, there was always a smell combined with coffee and my self hatred out matched my need to be liked and approved of.
My heart was less than clean, or at least I felt that way. This prayer is a powerful one. This is the prayer of an afflicted one. This is the prayer of one who does not see clearly. Now as a pastor, I read these words from the Psalmist and think of the young person hitting their lowest and I want to say, “You are clean hearted! You are good enough! You are whole! And that is how God sees you too.”
This passage carries so much theology of purity, sin, guilt and forgiveness. And as I read it over and over again writing this reflection I realized that the implication in the text is that God does not already see the Psalmist as whole and good enough. In telling my story and thinking compassionately about the experience of all who find themselves prostrate on the floor, I realized, it is not God but ourselves who tell us we are not good enough. My barriers to God’s spirit were so high because I made choices out of self-hatred and the act of praying this prayer on my yoga mat in the morning was a choice of self-love. God is the constant who loves and endures and when I make those choices to love myself, I begin again to see that loves presence in my life.
Give yourself a break today. You make a lot of decisions in the day that prioritize your own self-love. Brushing your teeth. Taking a walking break. Having a balanced meal. Write them down and recognize the ways that your own self love allows you to recognize the constant, ever present love of the divine.
God of love, help us clear a path to you on this day. God of compassion lend us your compassion for ourselves. God of radical acceptance teach us your ways to grow toward loving ourselves daily. Amen.
About the Author
Darci is a co-pastor at Park Avenue Baptist Church in Atlanta. Their call to ministry is characterized by leading people in creative expression. Darci brings their artistic gifts and talents to PABC's worship and faith development programs, as well as liturgy-building and online branding. Darci has started programs like Created 2 Create, an art ministry pastoral internship. Darci received a Louisville Pastoral Study Project grant to work with people in recovery through spiritual art making. Darci holds a Masters of Divinity from Candler School of Theology. Darci's passions include painting, found-objects art, legos with their son and all forms of ideation. Their family has chickens and gardens and a lovely junky yard.