Can you believe it?
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord. –Psalm 25:6
A monk noted for his books and teachings about prayer once told me about his ministry of leading weeklong retreats, in which he taught the art of meditation and the use of imagination in contemplative prayer. Toward the end of the week, the monk would lead individual retreatants in a guided meditation. He would invite the person to settle into a quiet, meditative state, just as he had taught them. Then the monk would gently ask the person to imagine being in his or her favorite spot – a place in the mountains by a stream, for example, or perhaps on a quiet stretch of their favorite beach. “Let the scene come to life,” he would say, “and just settle in and rest comfortably here, knowing all is well.”
After some silence, while the person imaginatively rested in this calming spot, the monk would then softly speak again. “Now, notice that not far away, someone else has come here to be with you. He is approaching…with a smile on his face…it is Jesus….He comes to you and sits down with you….He is smiling broadly…it is clear that he loves you deeply, and he just wants to tell you how much he delights in you, how he thinks of you all the time and simply cannot express how proud he is of you, how happy he is to be with you now. He embraces you. …Rest with Jesus now, and talk with him about anything you like….”
My monk friend says it is by far the most difficult spiritual exercise he could give someone. Most people, he says, can’t do it. It is too unbelievable. If the Lord were to come to them, people say, it would NOT be to praise them or to tell them how much he loves them. It would be to talk with them about their sins, what was wrong with their lives, changes that needed to be made.
No wonder the Gospel is so unbelievable, the news that God remembers us only “according to God’s love.” It’s the message of the Prodigal Son, who tried his best to make his confession, “Father, I have sinned, I am no longer worthy,” but his father wasn’t listening to that and only shouted all the more loudly in his exuberant voice, “Quick, bring fresh clothes, new sandals, the family ring, the finest food! We are going to feast and have a wonderful time! My beloved child is here.” That’s the Gospel. And if we can’t believe that, why waste time worrying about whether you believe in the virgin birth or some other article of the creed?
Psalm 25 is appointed to be read on Monday, October 23, in the Daily Office.