One of the psalms that is emblematic of the Lenten season, and of Holy Week, is Psalm 51. Recently, I have gotten acquainted with Norman Fischer’s Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms. Norman Fischer grew up in the Jewish community and then became a Zen Buddhist. From his Zen perspective, he returned to the psalms of the Hebrew Bible and, in consultation with both Jewish and Christian friends, rendered a version of the psalms that he believes is faithful to the intent of the Hebrew Bible but which seeks to illuminate the meaning of the psalms from a Zen perspective. As we stand on the threshold of Holy Week, I am moved to offer Norman Fischer’s version of Psalm 51:
Be gracious with me in your loving-kindness. In your tenderness blot out my confusion. Wash me, let my impurity run off. Cleanse me, squeeze the poison out. For of my twistedness I’m painfully aware. My weakness is before my eyes all day long.
Against you, weaver of the hidden pattern of things. Has the shape of my actions inclined. Necessarily – For I am human. And my pain must rend the cloth. Unraveling right and wrong. Tearing the fabric of my own heart. That in its woundedness it has no choice but to seek for you. From the first I was this way. Mothered in conception and division –Your eye looks through the fabric to the nothing beyond–Cause me there, in my soul’s exile, to find brightness. Freshen me with hyssop. Wash my heart and my body will be whiter than snow. Let me hear with inward ear the gladness and the joy. Of my sensual life. So that the bones you’ve crushed in bringing me to be. Can click and sing, repaired. Let the light of your eye in mine. Clarify my tangles and snarls. So they do not pull nor strangle. And my heart becomes clear. And my spirit new
Don’t’ push me away. Don’t remove your natural love. Remind me of the joy I find in immersion in you. Support me – free me–And I will remember you to all who’ve fallen away. And they’ll rise up, face to face with you again. Deliver me from division within myself. That I can find my tongue to sing your allness–Open my lips and my mouth will praise you. For this is what you desire, not sacrifice.
If you wanted burnt offerings I’d give them. But the sacrifice you desire is a broken heart. A humbled heart, quiet and receptive. You will always receive. Take it and make Zion strong. Take it and pile high the walls of Jerusalem. And then the rites and rituals will make sense. Then the bullocks and the incense can be offered on the altars