Psalm 51: Begin Again

Memorial of Saint Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church

August 20, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 51 in which God promises refreshment to our parched and hardened hearts.


Let’s talk about “parched”. Early in the pandemic, a dear friend gifted us with a vigorous basil plant. A practical culinary addition to our meager garden, it really was so much more. It became a symbol of hope over these pandemic days that can be cloudy in more than meteorological terms!

I have taken good care of the plant. But last week! I got distracted by something., something so important I have forgotten what it was! In my distraction, my little basil became parched.


Our souls become parched too, often because we let ourselves become distracted from their care. Like beautiful plants, our spirits have to be tended daily, nurtured with prayer, silence, gratitude and charity.

Psalm 51 reminds me that God is patient with our “distractions”. God will refresh and renew even the most neglected garden.

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.


Our first reading from Ezekiel offers a further encouragement that anything gnarled or hardened in our hearts can be resurrected by God’s Mercy.

I will sprinkle clean water upon you
to cleanse you from all your impurities,
and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you,
taking from your bodies your stony hearts


Poetry: Houseplants in Winter by Eamon Grennan

Their survival seems an open question:
I make a mess of watering, prune
without discretion, grieve over the leaf
whose borders burn and curl. Their
fresh petals a perpetual surprise – 
minute coral hearts, magnesium stars. 

I've lined them up on the table
I work and eat at, facing the small window
that faces almost south, placing myself
under the pale sway of their silence.
They play their deaths and resurrections out
in our cramped common quarters.

I gave the rose-geranium too much water:
its roots grew bog-black, sodden, and
nothing could keep its sweetness
in our lives. The jade, for all its
early promise and parakeet-green shoots,
won't root: it bows its leathery heads. 

The rest seem busy getting by. Removed
to the margins of our noisy mealtimes
when my children visit, they grow used
to the smell of bread frying in goosefat
for breakfast, small talk, the after-
dinner pungency of a peeled tangerine.

The speechless life they lead is Greek
to me: when live flowers rise
out of dead heads, I reckon it's as much,
for the moment, as I need to know.
The light that falls on them
strikes me too, till I feel as rooted

as I'll ever be in this home
from home. Look at us, they seem to say,
flourishing under straitened circumstances:
you see we make do with your handfuls
of earth, your cups of water, these daily
visitations of winter light that cast our
impeccable shadows on your razed page.

Music: Psalm 51 – Shuv Creative
from their website: This worship video sung in Biblical Hebrew directly from the Scriptures is a powerful tool to open the heart for repentance.

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