Have mercy on me, O God,
according to thy steadfast love;
according to thy abundant mercy,
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in thy sight,
so that thou art justified in thy sentence,
and blameless in thy judgment.
. . . . . . .
Anytime I read Psalm 51 (50LXX), I immediately hear it, and see myself in a very small room-cum-chapel so full of incense it looked like a smoky bar. I probably found more peace there, in that tiny room, than anywhere else on campus during the years I studied at the seminary. My Greek teacher, as it happen, was also a priest in the Orthodox church (OCA). Every morning, he would sing morning prayer with a handful of students to whom the practice appealed. And so it was that the child of a Roman Catholic first learned to cross herself from right to left, careful to press the first two fingers of the right hand against the thumb, to symbolize the Trinity.
Something happened there, in that chapel, that would forever alter me. As much as it was connected to the chant and the incense (I am a huge fan of the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei), it was shaped by my regular reflection on this Psalm. Each day, morning prayer began with this psalm–quite a different invitatory than those I find in my breviary. I found it humbling and refreshing to begin with two reminders: that I needed God, and that what God desired from me was to admit it.