Ash Wednesday – A Clean Heart

Create in me a clean heart, O God… (Psalm 51:10a)

What is a clean heart, anyway? Is it the absence of raspberry jam and grapefruit juice splatter? Brownie batter or coffee? Maybe this prayer invites God to scour away the toilet bowl ring that’s built up around the edges or the accumulation of kitchen grease that’s barely noticeable until suddenly it’s everywhere. And are we talking lemon juice sparkling, bleached white shining, good as new pristine perfect? Seems to me that some of the fingerprints and scar tissue on my heart make me who I am; maybe even the nose splotches on windows that broadcast cats live here. Does all of that have to go? Just how clean is clean?

I don’t see God looking for pure and unblemished in any of us, in large part because God’s a realist. And since God works so ingeniously with our wounds and warts, turning them into gifts and graces, I don’t tend to see God being inclined to banish all of the residue and remnants we’ve collected over the years. But I do think there’s a lot of territory to be explored in asking how receptive our hearts are to God: are noxious weeds choking out the good intentions of kindness and care? Do we harbor a stockpile of toxins that seep into the ground water and turn the beautiful bitter? Are our hearts parched and hard-packed soil in need of an infusion of air and nutrients? Do stains block rays of light trying to bring hope? Does an abundance of clutter create tripping hazards and prevent an easy response to the call of love?

Every year, this Psalm is part of the scripture line-up that welcomes us to Lent. This year, rather than giving anything up or taking something on, I’m inclined to think and pray, and hopefully write, about how I can make my heart more available to God, and as a result, more available to others. Sappy as it may sound, I really do believe that what the world needs most right about now is love. How better to get started than to invite God in for a season of deep and devoted heart cleaning?

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