Today’s find: Cellhouse Psalm

Every year on Ash Wednesday, we get reacquainted with the meaty portion of Psalm 51, proclaimed at Mass in response to the first reading.

It’s become a favorite of mine in the past couple of years—in no small part because Psalm 51 served as the trigger, more or less, for my blogs of found spirituality.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that I found myself recommending the consolations of the Psalm to one of my Kairos brothers during a reunion at Menard a few months ago.

But here’s the thing: Barely did the words “Psalm 51” pass my lips…when the inmate himself started reciting its verses aloud…

For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always…

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.

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

Clearly, he was a fan of Psalm 51, too. So we  talked a bit about our mutual affection for the words of this biblical prayer. He pointed out how the bars of his cell deepened the imagery of the Psalm in his everyday experience: ‘I acknowledge my offense…my sin is before me always.’

KairosArt True, dat: There’s nothing quite like solid ribs of cold, hard steel to remind you that you’re a sinner.

But the blessing in the psalm, we both agreed, had little to do with the act of acknowledging our offenses. Rather, we reflected about how faithful God had been in answering the rest of the prayer: Whenever we took the time to ask sincerely for a clean heart and a steadfast spirit, God always seemed to deliver.

And that makes Psalm 51 a great way to begin our Lenten journey, does it not?

We are invited to dwell, briefly, on the ashes—as a reminder of our offenses and sinfulness. And then we can move on…to pursue and savor the promises tucked into the remainder of this beautiful ‘cellhouse psalm’:

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

O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.







Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.



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