Sin, Sins, and a Psalm

March 3, 2010

It’s Lent, and it’s a time when many people engage in self-examination, and repentance, a turning-back to Christ.  Along with self-examination is almost certainly not far away from a reflection on sin and sins.  And Psalm 51 is a great one for such reflection.  Here’s a great quote on sin and Psalm 51 from a book I picked up in my parish library, “Arising from the Psalms” by Dewi Morgan.

Sin is rebellion.  In other words, it is a condition of mind and soul rather than the specific acts which spring from that condition.  Sins are the outward boils and blains.  Sin is the poison in the bloodstream.

This fifty-first Psalm knows both the boils and the poisons.  And confronts both because it springs from the knowledge that sin is not God’s intended condition for man.

Here’s Psalm 51, pasted in for your convenience, as it appears in the Book of Common Prayer.  Peace be with you!


51   Miserere mei, Deus

1      Have mercy on me, O God, according to your

loving‑kindness; *

in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

2      Wash me through and through from my wickedness *

and cleanse me from my sin.

3      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.

14    I shall teach your ways to the wicked, *

and sinners shall return to you.

15    Deliver me from death, O God, *

and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness,

O God of my salvation.

16    Open my lips, O Lord, *

and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

17    Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice, *

but you take no delight in burnt‑offerings.

18    The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; *

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

19    Be favorable and gracious to Zion, *

and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

20    Then you will be pleased with the appointed sacrifices,

with burnt‑offerings and oblations; *

then shall they offer young bullocks upon your altar.


“Just Walk With Me”

February 21, 2010

I’m retyping the following as it appears in my Community of Hope manual, which gives credit as being copied from “The Compassionate Friends Newsletter” Vol.1 No. 6, October 1986.  Enjoy.

I have a problem. I want to tell you about it. No, I really don’t.  I’d rather keep it to myself; handle it alone.  I do think it would be good for me to share it with you, though. I don’t want to because I’m afraid of what you’ll say or how you’ll act.

I’m afraid you might feel sorry for me in a way that makes me feel pathetic, like I’m some “poor thing.”

I’m afraid you’ll try to cheer me up.  That you will give me words, or texts or prayers that tell me in a subtle way to stop feeling bad.  If you do that I’ll feel worse (but hide it behind my obedient cheer-smile). I’ll feel you don’t understand.  I’ll feel you are making light of my problem (as if it can be brushed away with some brief words of cheer.)

I’m afraid you’ll give me an answer.  That this problem I’ve been wrestling with for some time now and about which I have thought endless thoughts will be belittled.  You can answer in a half-minute what I’ve struggled with for weeks?

I’m afraid also you might ignore my problem; talk quickly about other things, tell me of your own.

I’m afraid too you might see me stronger than I am.  Not needing you to listen and care.  (It’s true, I can get along alone but I shouldn’t have to.)

What I’d really like is if you would “just walk with me.”  Listen as I begin in some blundering, clumsy way to break through my fearfulness of being exposed as weak.  Hold my hand and pull me gently as I falter and begin to draw back.  Say a word, make a motion, or a sound that says, “I’m with you.” If you’ve been where I am, tell me how you felt in a way that I can know you’re trying to walk with me – not change me.

But I’m afraid…

You’ll think I’m too weak to deserve respect and responsibility.

You’ll explain what’s happening to me with labels and interpretation.

Or you’ll ask me, “What’ya going to do about it?”

PLEASE, JUST WALK WITH ME. All those other things seem so much brighter and sharper, smarter, and expert.  But what really takes LOVE is to “JUST WALK WITH ME.”

A Quote on Humility

February 13, 2010

He [Benedict] says that humility means that we know our place in the universe, both in relation to God and i realtion to our fellow human beings. Humility is not groveling, nor is it some false notion that somehow we are not as good as the next guy.  Rather it embraces so much who we truly are that groveling and comparisons to other people never enter into it.

From the Community of Hope participants’ manual, 6th ed. 4/30/06. Emphases added are mine.

Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation

February 11, 2010

(blog post title shamelessly borrowed from a newsletter article and subtitle of a quoted book!  and we move on to tonight’s stream of consciousness!  <smile>)

I just got my copy of our church’s newsletter today.  The front page carries a reflection by our rector. (the priest/pastor in an Episcopal church.)  She titled it, “Lent:  Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation.”

I was struck by the coincidental similarities in theme to my post from yesterday.  She (my rector) leads out the article thusly:

Many of us attend church because we have a longing for God, and for love.  But spirituality doesn’t just happen.  Even deeply desiring God doesn’t mean that I will experience God’s presence.

A quote she shared from Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Sacred Rhythms:  Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation” on p. 24:

Your desire for more of God than you have right now, your longing for love, your need for deeper levels of spiritual transformation than you have experienced so far is the truest thing about you.”

I had this knee jerk reaction upon reading that to ask if she had the book, and to borrow it.  (what is truest about me?  what does that look like and act like?)  I remember when I was in the throes of my first recognized and acted upon period of desire for God, I would ravenously consume spiritual books, and books on prayer, especially prayer of the contemplative type.  I wanted what those authors had found.  Of course, I spent so much time reading about prayer, that I didn’t always actually get into the business of prayer itself, ironically enough.  That came in time.  But then there came another time that I immersed myself in books like this where it wasn’t so much about the infatuation and zeal to be had in learning new things, it became a way to avoid prayer…a means of “learning” how to “do it right.”  The truth is, I avoided prayer, and instead would devour books on the subject.  Hmm. And so, while I will share this blog post with her, I won’t request the book just now.  Just yet.

Then I kept reading our rector’s article.  And now here are her words again:

Some of us want to be loved by God, but when it comes down to getting close to God in prayer, it’s frightening.  We resist.

Familiar?  (as this amateur blogger nods her head resignedly.)

She asks so many of the questions I’ve asked before and now in this compact little article in this month’s newsletter:  “What will I do when there is nothing to do?”  (I think her intent in asking that was how will we deal with silence instead of busy-ness that we fill our lives with, but I’ve frequently wondered what will I do when I can’t be useful, or competent as I age?  The head knows God loves, the head can even assert that with conviction to others in encouragement.  The head has a tougher time convincing the heart that beats just a few inches below itself that this is a known truth sometimes.)  And she closes with the suggestion to do some self-examination and ask oneself how to make space for spiritual transformation, in contrast to the smaller, more constrained question many will be asking themselves right now, in certain Christian disciplines, “what will be my Lenten discipline.”

That question, how am I making space for spiritual transformation, touches right at the nerve and heart center of what prayer is, in my opinion…how will I allow God to transform me and my community?  The next steps are in God’s hands about how any personal transformation in me will affect those around me and the space I inhabit, but we start within, I think.

Have you engaged in self-examination?  With Lent approaching, there may be more opportunities to dive in and dabble.

Now there’s a word I haven’t used in a long time!  <puts smile of reminiscence on face>  During that time of ravenous book consumption I recall “worrying” that I had no discipline, and that I was dabbling in so many different Christian practices and ways of praying, trying to find the way that best suited me and my relationship with God.  A wise friend assured me not to worry, that discipline would come later.

And it did, I suppose, but spiritual discipline doesn’t just happen, and it certainly doesn’t just endure on its own.  I stopped showing up.  There’s surely a connection.

No, I won’t dabble again.  It wouldn’t be the same or as holy as it was at that season of my life…it would be another nice (outwardly) appearing means of avoidance of the holy work I must really engage in.  Maybe someday I’ll go pick up that book, when it’s with intentionality and peace; right now it would only serve to distract from the real business I need for me, based on my own self-examination:  a need to pray and then get out there and live out whatever transformations God deigns to work out in me in my particular circumstances and surroundings.


A Personal Review

February 10, 2010

Was looking over my last few blog posts.  Due to my infrequent posting, that actually took me back a ways chronologically.

I noticed my talk of piano lessons.  And my talk of getting Taize music for my mp3 player.

What prompted the review, was actually a lack of being gentle with myself over a lack of committed prayer. (another post about being gentle with oneself popped out at me.)

It’s true, I haven’t been praying as I ought.  But then I backed up a bit, and realized my listening, singing along, and now PLAYING taize music on the piano is not random.  I even believe there is a certain spirituality in the discipline of practicing any genre of piano music for me.  I’ve begun learning how to improvise,if you can use the term very loosely with me (particularly if you actually are a real jazz improviser!!!) on Taize music.  What an adventure!  What poetry does for some, music does for me.  It gets a litte frustrating sometimes to be unable to play technically the song in one’s head, just as it is to be unable to express in words the longing of one’s heart.  I believe there are real overlaps, but I think I have a better chance of overcoming the technical limitations, and allowing music to communicate at the heart level.  Makes one’s heart sort of yearn and ache.  The one I’m working with right now is called, “Jesus Remember Me.”  The lyrics are simple and repetitive by design.  The music combined with the simple lyric makes the heart to ache with longing…

Which brings me back to more traditional prayer and the longings of the heart.  I think that may be one reason why I avoid prayer.  Maybe?  Cracks you open to longings when it is sometimes easier to just keep busy, or even just be lazy with mindless entertainment, rather than be still and take some time to give God some access to your mind or heart.

I’m about to embark on a 12 week class as one of the co-facilitators for Community of Hope.  It is premised on the notion of being formed by prayer and silence, and encouraging that in the students who gather.  I’m motivated to dig in and return to  some of that, partly out of concerns of outright hypocrisy if I don’t, partly due to natural seasons of returning longings that happen to me sometimes.  But with this sort of strange feeling of trepidation.  What will happen if I pray?  (and/or what won’t happen?)  Will I find God in the ordinary, in the ways I profess to believe he is to be found and the Rule of Benedict from which our group will study asserts?  (Lord, I want to see!)  Will God confront me with something difficult to do, or ask me to change something uncomfortable about myself that I might prefer to cling to or hide behind? (“What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg you, don’t torture me!”)

Do you ever find yourself asking these questions?

Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God,

Have mercy on me, a sinner.

Something about that prayer speaks to me, with a certain assurance that the mercy is already ours, but asking for it still feels “right” and not “grovel-ly”. 

What do you think?

Be blessed!

Hellish or Heavenly?

January 12, 2010

Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part that chooses, into something a little different than what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature. -C.S. Lewis

A friend of mine shared this quote with me a short time ago.  I had to ponder it a bit.  In some respects, I find it extraordinarily true.  In other respects, a little too black and white, a little too simplistic.  But mostly true.

I don’t necessarily know about the heavenly vs hellish dichotomy, but I absolutely, 100%’ly believe that our choices help form us, closing off some pathways that might have been present before.  Opportunity cost, I think I recall learning in high school accounting or freshman college economics.  The notion that there is a cost to choosing one thing over another, and that some choices close off other possibilities, maybe temporarily, maybe permanently.  Of course circumstances beyond our control can have these effects, too, but the important thing to take away from the pondering of this quote, I think, is that we have some degree of self-determination in forming that central thing inside us, for better or worse.  We have that responsibility and that power.

How am I choosing this day?

These Days?

Heavenly, hellish, or some delightful intoxicating combo of saved and sinner?  Hmm.

I’ve curtailed my church involvement quite a bit from say, the past 2-3 years ago.  Part of it was God-led for a sabbath season of sorts from that particular type of ministry involvement.  (Heavenly, you might say, and saying so with purity of heart, not a twinge of irony or sarcasm.  Really, prayed over that decision, and it felt “right.”)  Part of it was self-protective, and not just the innocent and beneficial stewardship of one’s time and energy.  Nope, the unvarnished truth was some of it was defensive and walling myself away from hurt, whether actual or imagined…the heart doesn’t necessarily care sometimes about factuality and objective reality.   (Hellish  <sigh>)  One ought to try though, I think, to be open to love and possibility and keep our walls to a minimum to live life to its fullest.  Hmm.

I don’t feel the same naivete and optimism I once felt about the Church, and even life in general the way I used to.  That’s disappointing to me, because I’ve always felt myself to be an optimist.  I’m not sure I like that change to my central thing…it feels like a shift is happening.  I think I should watch my choices a little more closely and with a sense of detached wonder and interest so I don’t find myself getting sucked into automatic reflexive decisions, instead of thoughtful choices.

How am I spending my opportunity costs now?  I’m “wasting time” (in a certain sense!) and “playing” in an adult sense that works for me.  Hellish or heavenly?  Time will tell, but I happen to think more the latter than the former.

I’m playing video games.   Yeah, video games!

I recently accepted an invitation from my elementary aged daughter to be part of a three-generation girl sleepover.  Yup, my daughter, myself, and my mom all slept in the living room after making truffles, other snacks, and playing on the Wii.

I got Dance Dance Revolution to play and exercise. (it really is fun!!!)

I’m taking piano lessons.  Yeah, me!  I had a few when I was younger, so I’m not a complete beginner, and I was a pretty good trombonist in high school, but I LOVE the piano.  It’s the kind of thing I can lose track of time while I’m at it. (in a good and holy way.)  Oh, is this ever FUN!!!  I’ve missed music and the tugs it makes on my soul…  It feels good and right to be back at it.

This playfulness and wasting time is heavenly and hellish at differing times.  And it’s changing my inner self.  My central “thing.”

I believe God’s going to use it for good, who knows how.  Let’s see how the next leg of this ol’ journey goes?  ;)

(another, different verse on my mind)

December 8, 2009

When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg you, don’t torture me!”

Luke 8:28