Ash Wednesday: Psalm 51 & Luke 1:1-38

From Sarah Tooley

There’s no better way to approach an Ash Wednesday than to check out the concomitantly mournful and hopeful performance of Miserere Mei Deus (Psalm 51) by the King’s College Choir.

Psalm 51 is a picture of a relationship between a human being and a Father God, ripe with complexity and longing. Contained within a scant 19 verses is a lifetime of human pursuit that sounds plum arduous.

This scripture is a confession of undeniable sin and also a confession of belief in a compassionate God—two opposing realities fiercely held together by the unfailing love of God toward a human and a human’s love toward God.

In this psalm, we see David’s grief and desperation after Nathan confronts him about his affair with Bathsheba, pulling the blinders away from his eyes. David’s sin is ever before him. David seems to fear that his sin might crush him and yet, he petitions to be cleansed by God because he believes. David is a believer and his sin doesn’t destroy his belief. In full sight of his sin, David seizes an opportunity to believe.

A common phrase in my workplace is that “conflict creates opportunity.” Bob Johansen wrote a book called Leaders Make The Future, where he claims that one of the top 10 traits that a leader must have in an uncertain world is ‘dilemma flipping’. Johansen explains that dilemmas are unsolvable issues that must not be overly simplified by leaders, but that leaders must see them with a different lens. Johansen might suggest to David that this lens helps him to see the types of opportunities that are only available in the misery.

I’m not suggesting that David sees God in the midst of his own sin because he’s a great leader, though he did appear to be one of significance. I do think that David’s tenacity in his pursuit of God was because he was able to see through a different lens—one that could see God’s goodness, God’s desire for us, and God’s ability to heal and save.

I am so easily inclined to choose despair over hope when I see my sin or when the world disappoints me. I am so quick to pull away from God and others. The reason why Psalm 51 is a picture of a relationship is because David chooses to show up and push against God and petition and wrestle. David shows up. I hope to show up and push against God and seek his face in this Lenten season. Psalm 51 just might be my guide.

I live in Dorchester, work at Jewish Vocational Service, and I study social work at Boston College. I can be found reading, dancing, eating, watching movies, and traveling with as many companions as I’m able to muster.