Monday, January 02, 2006

Asking For A Clean Heart

Yesterday was an important Meeting for Worship for me. I had missed Sunday morning Meeting the previous week and had also missed Friday night meeting for two weeks in a row.

But more than that - I was feeling spiritually out of tune and in need of re-centering. Late in the week I had unwisely agreed to hear something in confidence that should not have been a secret. I had planned to keep this secret by just "not mentioning" it, but as things turned out I had to be willfully evasive, then tell half-truths and at last tell an outright lie. I am a terrible liar and the person I was trying not to tell is very intuitive. So the result was that I seriously damaged someone's trust in me and did no good at all for the person I was trying to "protect".

In Meeting I reflected on all this and saw in the light that even the allegedly good intentions I had started out with were not all that good. In my heart I knew all along that the confidence would be very hard to keeep and that if I did keep it I would actually not be doing anyone any real favors. I would only be enabling some addictive behavior. So why had I done this? Because I'm tender to another's need for privacy? No, unfortunately, that wasn't the largest part of my motive. It was because I fear conflict and unpleasantness and confrontation. I understood this vaguely and intellectually even going into Meeting, but in the Silence and in the Light I felt it more deeply.

At that point a verse dimly remembered from some long-ago Sunday School or Vacation Bible School lesson came to mind. A prayer. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." That was my silent prayer throughout the rest of the meeting. Often I give vocal ministry in Meeting, but that was not to be my role this time. A visiting Friend who I greatly respect gave a wonderful message on the theme (perhaps apropos of the New Year) that in worship we enter into something timeless rather than time-bound. Another Friend prayed her thanks for the gift of God's Spirit. Still another spoke of Christ and the need for obedience. I appreciated all the messages, but what I needed most was to hear and repeat within the simple prayer "Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me." It occurred to me that this prayer needed to be said in the right spirit in order to be valid. If I were merely asking passively that God give me a "clean heart" then I would be in danger of trying to shift onto Him the responsibility for my own condition (God hasn't given me a clean heart, so what can I do?) On the other hand, though, the prayer was necessary. If I were to make some "resolution" to get myself a clean heart on my own power I would be setting myself an impossible task and setting myself up for failure. I needed to take responsibility, but I also needed to ask for the assistance I needed to meet that responsibility.

Later, after going home, I searched through the Psalms looking for this verse. The Bible I picked up did not have a concordance, so it took awhile. (Gave me an excellent opportunity to reacquaint myself with some beautiful Psalms, by the way). I finally found it in the 51st Psalm. Here it is, as it is presented in the King James Version:

1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
15 O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
18 Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Chris M. said...

Thanks, Rich, for this reflection on the Psalm, and for typing in the whole text of the KJV. I am especially pondering your point about taking responsibility, and not being passive. (Render unto God what is God's, but you have work to do, too!)

I looked up the Revised English version of the Psalm in my Oxford Study Bible and here's how it's translated:
"God, create a pure heart for me, and give me a new and steadfast spirit."

I like both versions. And it reminds me that one thing I like about Bible study at SF meeting, at least, is that people use different translations and we compare them as another "way in" to the Spirit of the text.

12:41 AM, January 04, 2006  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Thanks, Chris.

I also like the other translation of this verse that you quote, and I agree that using multiple translations of the same text can help find a "way in" to the meaning. This is also the practice in the Bible Study group at 15th Street (or was the last time I attended).

As for my primary preference, though, give me the KJV. This morning on the way to work I was reading "Saint Saul" by Donald Harman Akenson. Akenson uses the KJV for most of the quotations in his book and explains his choice like this:

"...it is still the best English-language version. Not the most accurate: the best... On points of detail it must be checked against more modern translations, ones whose erudition and finite accuracy surpass it. Those little matters are important, for God is in the details. But God is also in the music. All of the modern translations of the New Testament that I have encountered are either written for the tone-deaf or, with false-vividness, for the philistine. The Almighty has enough trouble with a world where even the music of the ionosphere is being distorted by human technodreck: at least let His Word sing." A curmudgeonly exaggeration, perhaps, but I tend to agree with him (except, of course, that as a good Quaker I never equate the Bible with "His Word".)

Best to you and to Robin.
- - Rich

11:36 AM, January 04, 2006  
Blogger Paul L said...

V 10-12 was part of the Lutheran liturgy I sang about a thousand times as a youth, to a beautiful and indeliblly imprinted tune. I especially like the "Restore onto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me in thy free spirit" line. The joy of thy salvation. Free spirit.

Amen

1:54 AM, January 06, 2006  

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