Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain in me a willing spirit.
When I first read this scripture, I wondered about the use of the words “clean” and “right,” suspecting that they were used in conjunction with some sort of confession of sins and a plea that those sins be forgiven and forgotten. In essence, David is asking to be reborn in heart and spirit.
To ensure I had it in context, I read back from the beginning of Psalm 51 which affirmed the fact that David’s prayer acknowledges his sin (adultery with Bathsheba) and asks for mercy. In verse 10, he asks that his heart be made pure and that he be given strength (to deal with temptation). In verse 11, he pleads to be allowed to still enjoy the presence of the Lord and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And, in verse 12, he implores that he know again the joy of living in His way.
From a 21st century perspective, and with the lessons of the New Testament behind us, I am a bit put off by the audacity of David to deliberately plan an adulterous affair with Bathsheba and then send her husband to the field, knowing the probabilities of wartime mortality. Is it so easy, then, to receive forgiveness to rid himself of the bad feelings enveloping him as a result of his actions? True penance would demand more and, perhaps, in verse 13 that is what David’s pledge is all about – a promise that he will teach others about His ways so that sinners might return to the Lord.
In summary, these verses recount an authentic admission of sin, a recognition of a need to demonstrate a change in heart, and an expressed desire to be restored to the joy of salvation and the Lord’s presence – all those things that we contemplate even more during Lent.
Questions for reflection:
1) What does a "willing spirit" look like in today's world? What characteristics would you associate with it?
2) Is rebirth (clean heart and right spirit) more authentic if accompanied by a formal public confession of sins and a ritual ceremony to mark its occurrence? Can rebirth be as effective if it is simply a matter of a spontaneous - perhaps frequent - private and individual recommitment?
3) David felt he needed to compensate for his transgression by teaching others about the Lord's ways and bringing sinners back to Him. How do we do that today as individuals - and as members of a faith community?
About Gil and Clare Perry
Gilbert and Clare Perry, 24+ year members of St. Pius X, emigrated from the mega-church of more than 3,000 families to MOTA last spring, delighting in the "smaller congregation, the genuine commitment to a social justice agenda, and an ecumenical spirit in evidence 24-7." Clare is a Public Affairs Officer with the Army Corps of Engineers with thoughts of retiring soon, while Gil plans to continue to work as an engineer for a local mechanical contractor for another year or two. Parents of 3 adult children and first-time grandparents in late January, they hope to become increasingly involved in the MOTA community.