Sonnet for Psalm 51

Dirt gathers slowly, unnoticed at first, 
Darkening my soul’s window, inside, out.
When I at last wake, my troubled heart stirs,
To ponder the cause of these dreary clouds.
The dark glass cracks, light breaks through, and I see:
It’s not the world growing darker – it’s my soul within.
There was no dust storm of sin, not for me, 
But, unacknowledged, what can you forgive?
So, create in me a clean heart, I pray,
And renew a right spirit within me.
Reshape me, mold me, turn me to your way, 
Until I am, once more – pure, whole, and free.
Make something beautiful, honest and true, 
With my heart, mind and soul, offered to you.


Psalm 51 is the most well-known of the penitential psalms, and the one that I find most moving. This psalm describes itself as “A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” This refers to one of the most famous sins in scripture, committed by one of the heroes of the Old Testament. How can we relate to that? As I pondered that, it seemed to me that for many of us, myself included, our sins are smaller, or at least less infamous. Most of the time, our sins won’t make the evening news or change the course of our life. But they are no less dangerous, because these little sins of ours accumulate, like unacknowledged dust, and slowly crowd out the light. We need a Nathan to open our eyes. Sometimes that can come from a crack in our soul’s window, a moment when we see what has been happening, and are ready to change.

These are a few of my thoughts as I wrote this sonnet. So here, then, is a passage from Psalm 51, followed by the other scripture passages I had in mind when I wrote the sonnet, along with the sonnet again, followed by a closing prayer:

Psalm 51:1-12

Have mercy on me, O God, 
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop,
and I shall be clean;
wash me,
and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and 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,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Scripture Readings

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:8-9

One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. – John 9:25

Sonnet for Psalm 51

Dirt gathers slowly, unnoticed at first, 
Darkening my soul’s window, inside, out.
When I at last wake, my troubled heart stirs,
To ponder the cause of these dreary clouds.
The dark glass cracks, light breaks through, and I see:
It’s not the world growing darker – it’s my soul within.
There was no dust storm of sin, not for me, 
But, unacknowledged, what can you forgive?
So, create in me a clean heart, I pray,
And renew a right spirit within me.
Reshape me, mold me, turn me to your way, 
Until I am, once more – pure, whole, and free.
Make something beautiful, honest and true, 
With my heart, mind and soul, offered to you.

Closing Prayer

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love. Wash me and cleanse me of my sin. Crack the window to my soul, if that is what you need to do, to create in me a clean heart. Open my eyes, Lord, to my sin, but at the same time to your grace and mercy. Wash away all my sins in the blood of your dear son, Jesus. Restore to me the joy of your salvation by putting a new and right spirit within me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen

Town and Parish Church of St. Mary’s, Wittenberg, Germany

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