Wednesday, July 21, 2021 (Day 51)
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Psalm 51 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Grant me grace, God, as benefits your kindness,
with Your great mercy wipe away my crimes.
Thoroughly wash my transgressions away
and cleanse me from my offense.
For my crimes I know,
and my offense is before me always.
You alone have I offended,
and what is evil in Your eyes I have done…
A pure heart create for me, God,
and a firm spirit renew within me.
Do not fling me from your presence,
and Your holy spirit take not from me.
Give me back the gladness of Your rescue
and with a noble spirit sustain me.
Let me teach transgressors Your ways,
and offenders will come back to you.
An Opening Word
Psalm 51 is familiar if you attend Ash Wednesday and Lenten worship services: we read it yearly. We tune ourselves to it in the last gasp of winter, as we prepare for and anticipate the emerging springtime celebration of Easter’s empty tomb. It is as if the earth with us declares all that is sparse about our spiritual life: February and March in Chicago know well that there is something hard about life and a longing for renewal is all we can muster. And so we receive the gift of Psalm 51’s reminder that we, each of us offend God, but can with hope anticipate forgiveness, and renewal. I especially love Robert Alter’s English-language vocabulary, “Do not fling me from your presence,” as if we are ants on some divine picnic table, vulnerable to a metaphorical flick off the table divine grace.
Jonathan Edwards, today’s mystic, offers some connection to Psalm 51, with his words below that suggest that when we know and trust God, we will naturally desire to live less-sinful, more-resolutely-kind-and-generous lives. Edwards is saying that a God-shaped life cajoles us toward good. A life lived in tune with God will by nature, be a life ever-more in tune with an ethical life. No wonder the author of Psalm 51 wants to welcome God’s forgiveness and make way for God’s sustaining renewal: a clean slate gives way for a second chance at living the life we hope to live.
Jonathan Edwards is a profoundly influential theologian-pastor from the Great Awakening and Revival era of American protestant religious life, mostly known for his more-harsh work, “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God,” but as Carl McColeman points out, his lesser known “Treatise Concerning Religious Affections,” (from which the below words have been quoted) sings a different, more mystic song to God.
Prayer from the Mystics: Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758)
From a vigorous, affectionate, and fervent love to God,
will necessarily arise other religious affections;
hence will arise an intense hatred
and abhorrence of sin, fear of sin,
and a dread of God’s displeasure,
gratitude to God for God’s goodness,
complacence and joy in God,
and when God is graciously and sensibly present,
and grief when God is absent,
and a joyful hope when a future enjoyment of God is expected,
and fervent zeal for the glory of God.
May it be so for you, for us. Amen.