Monthly Archives: March 2016

Always Contrite


“You will not turn away, O God, from a broken and contrite heart.”—Psalm 51:17

The psalmist says that God will not spurn a contrite heart, but he might just as truthfully say that God cannot turn from such a heart. There’s something about a heart that’s been shattered, opened, rendered contrite and pliable by failure, that God cannot resist.

If that’s true, it makes me think it’d be a good thing to adopt contrition as a way of life, not just an occasional shamed response to a particular sin committed. The best heart to have would be an always contrite heart.

Not a heart always wallowing in guilt, mind you. Not a perpetually self-abasing or gloomily self-loathing heart. No wailing, breast-beating, or sackcloth and ashes. Just a heart that isn’t shocked by its own mistakes, but assumes them as a baseline human fact. A heart that, in a mysterious way of speaking, welcomes frailty as a God-magnet. A heart that knows failure is one of the best friends the soul could have.

Sr. Joan Chittister says we would do well to embrace the “sanctifying character of our mistakes.” To resist is to miss a mystery, and a biblical truth—our sins may make us holier than our virtues ever will.

An aware heart always on its knees, always truthful about its lack, always surrendered to what Mark Heim calls ‘the vast accomplished grace around us,’ and therefore always intimately accompanied by the Mercy within mercy inside mercy who is God—that’s the joyous life the penitent psalmist prays for. It’s the life I pray for too.

And you?


Break my heart with your great mercy, O God, and be always near my always broken heart.


Passing Guests


“Teach me, O God, how fleeting my life is.

Hear my prayer, listen to my cry;

for I am your passing guest…,

like all who have gone before me.”— Psalm 39:12

Whenever I’m herded onto a jetliner with a couple hundred other uncomfortable, prickly travelers, or crammed into a subway full of bleary commuters, or crushed in any crowd where a crash or a derailment or a shooting or a stampede could suddenly kill us all, I find myself thinking, “These are the people I may die with today.”

I look intently at them, eavesdrop on their conversations, imagine their backstories. “You and I may die together today,” I say to them in my inmost heart.

Does that sound morbid? Maybe it is, but it helps me be human. The more I see others as people I might die with, the harder it is to be rude and judgmental and impatient, my usual behavior in hordes. There’s something pathos-inducing about this thought. It elicits a softening.

We’re not rivals for life’s overhead bins. We’re not jockeying for earth’s limited seating. We’re not first class people and steerage people. We’re dying companions. How can I not be reverent? How can I not be kind?

The psalmist knows he’s here today, gone tomorrow, a passing guest of God. We all are. On earth for a fleeting breath, we live by sheer hospitality, God’s to us, ours to each other, our common death our closest bond.

For everyone in the great crowd of mortals, age to age, it’s the same. Soon I will die with you, and you with me.

In the meanwhile, let’s be kind.


Life is short, most holy God. Make me tender towards my dying companions, all of us your passing guests.