An Ash Wednesday Meditation
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Some say that Psalm 51 is connected with King David. They say it was his lament sung after his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba. It was not right for David to lie with another man’s wife, impregnate her and then conspire to murder Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband. Oh, this was not right at all for the King of Israel.
So the Lord sent Natan, Nathan to tell David a parable which sounded eerily similar to David’s circumstances. But David didn’t recognize himself in the story; he only grew angry at the injustice of what had happened. The Lord was, of course, not happy with David. But Natan opened David’s eyes. David understood his mistake, he realized the gravity of his sin and he repented. Such, they say, is the occasion of Psalm 51.
“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, cleanse me from my sin”. (v. 2) David had dirtied the chambers of his heart with his indiscretion that ultimately destroyed lives. “Wash me, purge me with hyssop and I will be clean”. David begged for cleansing, to be free from the filth that he had generated that hurt not only himself but Uriah, Bathsheba and David’s kingdom. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with your free spirit.”
Aren’t clean hearts and open loving relationships what we all yearn for? Isn’t it what we strive for each day of our living? A heart that is unencumbered by sorrow and pain, by brokenness and deceit. Don’t we wish for relationships built upon honesty and trust, and a willingness to open ourselves up to the vulnerabilities of life knowing that we will be protected? This too is what our God wants for us. But it’s hard. Really hard.
Having clean hearts is dependent heavily upon our ability to get into the ‘muddy waters’ of our lives. Getting in touch with the source of our pain, the ways in which we have hurt others, ourselves, the ways in which we have been hurt are dank, murky, muddy waters to wade into. However submerging ourselves in these places that we don’t want to go though will make us free.
I learned a lot about ritual that occurs every 12 years in India. The Kumbh Mela (kuumb MAY luh) is the largest gathering of humans in history and while it was not a twelfth year when I was there it was the midpoint, Ardh Kumbh Mela (aard kuumb MAY luh). Hindu pilgrims come to a very holy spot where the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers converge. Why there? Because ancient Hindu scriptures say a drop of nectar of immortality landed thereafter as 12 day celestial war. Hindu’s come to the river for ritual cleansing, bathing believing that they sins can effect and infect their entire body. After cleansing in the waters of the Ganges they are liberated.
Photo by Tewfic el-Sawy
If our heart and soul are not aligned with then neither can our body be. A total cleansing is called for so the Hindu’s put their spiritual and physical needs together in this one act of what we would call repentance and forgiveness. It’s about washing out the old to prepare for the new.
We know that we do not have to wait every 12 years for God’s forgiveness. It’s available for the asking. We are forgiven because God forgives. But if we want to live, really live, we have to jump into that muddy water so that we can understand the depth of our sinfulness and the poignancy of God’s forgiveness. It’s not pleasant; many would rather not and do not.
One of my tour guides in India was named Sanjay. He was fascinated with the fact that I was a Pastor. Specifically he wanted to know all about confession and if I ever listened to confessions. I said yes and then tried to explain the difference between ‘corporate’ confession like we do in the Protestant church and ‘individual’ confession that is done in the Catholic church. Sanjay’s eyes glazed over. I realized then that this was way too much and this was not what he was asking. So I stopped.
I finally said, “Yes, sometimes people do come to me and confess their sins.” He shook his head and was silent. Then he said, “Tomorrow I will confess to you”. “Yes, I will be ready” I said, and then we rode to my hotel in silence. As I was getting out of the car he asked, “What should I do to prepare?” “Just come with an open heart and a willingness to be honest”. We made the gesture of NAMASTE (which means the God in me acknowledges the God in you) to one another and parted.
It was early the next morning that he was driving me to the airport. We were silent. I had been with him for four days and as he showed me the sights we talked about arranged marriages and love marriages, the culture of India, the Hinduism and Christianity. He was becoming like a friend. But now we were silent. I decided not to bring up the conversation about confession but to let him start it. When it didn’t happen I figured he had forgotten about it or was just pulling my leg.
We pulled up at the Deli International Airport and as I was about to get out of the car he said, “I decided not to confess to you.” I smiled at him and said, “That’s ok, another time perhaps, NAMASTE my friend”.
I’ll never know why he chose not to confess. Somehow though I think there was something heavy in his heart that needed to come out. I hope that he was able to get to the Ganges to cleanse himself in the muddy waters.
To confess is to let go of the past; to lighten your load and to forge ahead in the confidence of God’s love. The opportunity for transformation is here and it is now. Lent provides a space and time for you to just that. Jump into the muddy water of your life, God will be there to lift you up, to give you fresh air to breathe.