Return to God’s word for the purpose of “hearing and seeing” Christ in the text (Psalm 51:1-13). Fix your gaze on the illumination. Ask God to open the eyes of your heart and enable you to see what God wants you to see.
The task of seeing with “eyes of faith” in the psalms of The Saint John’s Bible is slightly more difficult than reflecting on illuminations found in the other volumes. There are no illuminations in the Psalms. The Committee on Illuminations and Texts chose not to illumine the prayers of Israel, but to let the words of these sacred hymns ‘sing’ for themselves. This is done in several ways. First, each of the five books of the Psalter have been handwritten by only three calligraphers using certain techniques. For instance, the titles of the psalms of each book are set apart from the others by distinct colors. Psalm 51 is written in purple, a royal color so appropriate for these songs attributed to King David. There are not even special treatments, in the style of the Magnificat found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1. There the words are in gold with a rich blue background. Here in the psalms, the first and the last, Psalm 1 and 150, are also written in gold but no color to set them off. Second, modern readers of psalms in The Saint John’s Bible will ‘note’ the digitized chants of the Saint John’s monastic community running horizontally throughout the volume. In addition, the chanting of other faiths can be seen running vertically on the frontispiece as well as on the scroll-like panels beginning each of the five books. After all, this is a hymnbook, so the depiction of gold chords and notes ascending in praise or lament to God, is brilliantly appropriate.
Psalm 51, while not a special treatment, stands out as one of the foundational psalms for our faith. Sally Mae Joseph has written the title and the entire first verse in purple. To me, the words are difficult to read; I have to look very closely in order to decipher David’s prayer. It’s almost as if it is a code cut into the vellum. That said, once you know the code, you have the secret to life, life with God. This psalm is all about relationship that acknowleges who God is: a God of abundant, overflowing mercy and love. The opening words of the psalm give me permission to come before God and ask that my transgressions be blotted out. Going back to the dictionary, it says that to blot out means to ‘obliterate’ or to ‘utterly destroy’ something. This God of abundant mercy is able to completely and utterly wipe out my transgression so that it is no more. That is new life.
What may be holding you or me back from experiencing a clean slate? A new life with the God of love and mercy?
© Psalm 51, Donald Jackson, 2004. The Saint John’s Bible, Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition, © 1993, 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.