Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and with thy governing spirit establish me.
– Psalm 50(51):10-12
For nearly thirteen years I have been reciting these words. There have been varying degrees of attention and consistency, to be sure, but nevertheless, the words of this Psalm have been repeated all around me, and have rolled off of my own tongue more times than I can imagine.
It is a beautiful Psalm, Psalm 50 – one that is smattered all over the days of the Orthodox Church. It calls us to prayer in the morning, in the evening, and at every point in between. It is engraved on my heart, despite me. And for as long as I can remember, these three verses right in the middle have lunged out at me. No matter how hard my heart, no matter how distracted or apathetic I am when I come to prayer, I am jerked back into the presence and mercy of God, even if only for these few verses of gold.
Particularly verse twelve. Ten and eleven grab me, but more as heralds of the third than anything else: ‘Here it comes. Are you ready? This is the one you need. Wait for it…’
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and with thy governing spirit establish me.
I know when it started in earnest. I could probably figure out the day, if I really wanted to waste some time. Everyone has that valley that defines their very lives for a time. That place of ash and desolation that seems absolutely inescapable. If you haven’t had yours yet, it’s coming. Don’t worry.
For me, it came just before my youngest was born, when my husband of seven years and three children walked out on us. It was a low that I will never forget. And a low that was not about to forget me.
In those hours of darkness, Psalm 50 spoke to me like never before, and crying out of its belly was the desperate cry of my heart: ‘Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and with thy governing spirit establish me.’ Everything was lost. My joy, my hope, my spirit was all but quenched. I was surrounded and held up by amazing people. I was encouraged through the tough love of those who would not let me give up. I can still hear my mother demanding that I pull it together for my kids. I can still hear my priest pulling me blindly through the darkness and into the light. But most of all, I can still hear God, ringing through verse twelve, giving me a prayer that I could recite from my heart, without reservation, without guile, without fear or anger or falseness. Please, O Lord, give me the desire to desire you. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation.
To this day, verse twelve is like an alarm going off inside my head. And I am thankful. So valuable are those reminders that conk us on the head from time to time to bring us back where we belong. They are everywhere, if only we have the eyes to see them. One of my perennial conks just happens to come smack dab in the middle of Psalm 50.