Clean Heart

4:00 PM



Growing up Boone always meant starting the day with a family devotional, complete with singing (in three-part harmony, of course), a reading from the Bible, and a prayer to start the day off right. I love this about my childhood. To this day, I generally don't miss a morning sitting, lighting a candle, setting a timer, and allowing myself to relax, and breathe. 

There are two main things I focus on when I pray and meditate: I follow the rhythm and sensation of my breathing as it is regulated by my brain stem, and I try not to judge my thoughts, either quality or quantity. I practice letting thoughts come and go without attaching to them, letting them move through me like water through a drain pipe. By all means, let it drain!

These days, I follow up with a kind of prayer which is basically an exercise in acceptance and surrender, and more like listening. I wouldn't, however, rule out the possibility that I might beg God to relieve my loved ones of their suffering, something I don't tolerate well. Sometimes, while sitting quietly in the enveloping stillness, I notice that I am agitated, that my heart-rate is faster and my chest, tighter; this is usually connected to the thoughts to which I am starting to attach. When I feel anxious, I try to remember it's OK to have these thoughts. It's what my beautiful mind does; it runs on memory, patterning, and stimulus. However, I don't have to "think about my thoughts."

A couple of days ago, my meditation was interrupted by this kind of tension, tension that results from believing the random thoughts streaming through my consciousness, and I remembered this scripture I've loved all of my life; I still say it out loud.

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me." Psalm 51:10

I think the desire to revisit this scripture came from a place of frustration that I couldn't relax the automatic barrage of stress-thoughts, worry-mongering, and internalized rosary-style-fidgeting while I was trying to create this perfect zen moment.

The thing is, the scripture itself conjured up more anxious feelings, and some questions. What is a clean heart, and why would my heart...or anyone else's heart...be considered dirty? 

The idea I grew up with still hovers, that I have a nature that is prone to sin, and sin has a similar effect on the heart that cola does on a copper penny. It's corrosive. Mutating.

As a child and young adult attempting to process the teachings of my (beloved) faith tradition, I came to believe that this sin nature is with us from the beginning, and that the moment of salvation arrives when we recognize our sin nature, and repent. The moment we choose another way.

I still consider myself to be a Christian, but with some slight alterations in my originally formed perceptions. This idea of being clean or dirty, possibly a few degrees of separation from the way it was originally intended, has exacerbated an already existing shame issue for me, leaving me in a cycle of self-judgment, steeped in fear of being seen for who I am. 

I like how Pastor Dave (Brisbin) refers to the unfortunate-but-certain defects of the human condition: "stone not yet smooth." In this metaphor, the metrics are tied to maturity, or immaturity, and forgiveness is a given.

Anyway, it was unexpected when in meditation, I heard myself speak this scripture as a prayer, and it felt like going home.

"Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways"

That's how I remember it, with references to sin and transgression...to being cast away, rejected, which happens to be my core fear, by the way. In the last few years, I have come to believe that for me, this illusion of separateness is one of the nastiest flies in the ointment.

So, what exactly is a "clean heart" in the context of someone who is seeking to surrender and doing constant inventory of his or her behaviors while embracing ownership and accountability? I know I screw things up, but am I dirty?

It continues:

"Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." (Psalm 51)

Hmmm. Hyssop. I have enjoyed a hummingbird hyssop in my front yard for years. It's delicately gorgeous, and  when I crush some of the leaves, it smells something like vanilla, jasmine and licorice, all blended together.

What does this have to do with a clean heart? Apparently, hyssop cleanses the body in the same way we might be cleansed spiritually.

I decided to Google articles about hyssop, and found a helpful one from Dr. Joseph Mercola whose wisdom in the field of holistic medicine is widely respected. According to his website, there are some very specific and beneficial qualities attributed to hyssop. It's considered to be antispasmodic and antiseptic. It can lower fevers, soothe or heal skin issues, and it can stimulate a variety of sluggish systems like digestive, endocrine, circulatory and excretory.

Apparently, hyssop is traditionally thought to be a healing herb, so in this case, purification is more like detox. 

Maybe, then, a "clean heart" is a beautiful euphemism for a healed heart, and perhaps, purification has never been about making me presentable. Just whole.

I've heard it said that spiritual elements are mirrored in natural, physical elements. In other words, like hyssop is provided by the Earth as an agent of healing, to stimulate the body's ability to cleanse itself, to calm the skin or regulate fevers, perhaps prayer, meditation and spiritual surrender serve as agents to clear the mind and heart of clutter, cobwebs and shadows, to gently exfoliate the hardening, irritating buildup of misconception and, yes, even guilt.

There's a subtle difference between the way I have interpreted scripture like this in the past, compared to the way I would now, and that difference has exponential impact in terms of experience because swallowing guilt and shame along with an authentic spiritual solution is like drinking poison with bread. No matter how liberating the original truth may be, the side-effects are devastating.

"Create in me a clean heart, Oh God," today and every day. "Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean."

Every time I ask, every time I am afraid, or ashamed, or even, in the wrong. Let it drain.

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