When we reflect on what it means to be born again, or what King David would’ve called being renewed in Spirit, it helps to have a story we can relate to. Luckily, the person who wrote the above verse happens to be one of the most enigmatic characters in the Hebrew Scriptures. That means we have lots of stories and lots of details available to us about David. Rabbinical Scholars have ways of determining what point of my man’s life each of his Psalms were written in.
Like David wrote Psalms 51 at one of those really shady moments in his life, that whole Bathsheba bit. A quick run down:
King David spied on a beautiful married woman named Bathsheba while she was taking a bath. Creepy, I know, but he was so tantalized by her beauty he did what many Kings before him and after him have done. He used his power of influence to seduce her and act on his impulses. Well, Bathsheba got pregnant.
Rather than dealing with the consequences and face Bathsheba’s husband- Uriah the Hittite- King David pulls a fast one. He commanded Uriah to come home from battle hoping he would sleep with his wife. Long story short Uriah didn’t and David decided to go another route. He sent Uriah back into battle after bribing his men to abandon him. Obviously, Uriah died and King David was able to marry Bathsheba free of guilt-what David did before writing Psalms 51
Now we also know David was a deep thinker who was constantly seeking depth with God. He meditated. He sought God in everything he did. Sometimes after the fact but that only makes it more relatable because we see how human David is. Learning how to silence our senses and step into the Spirit within isn’t something only a few are capable of doing.
Meditation is for everyone.
It’s worth noting here- the Hebrew concept of meditation is summed up by the word hitbodedut. Hitboded is derived from badad- to be secluded. This means the Rabbis and Prophets of old went into periods of isolation from others. They went away and they went in. That’s why so many of King David’s works make such fantastic mantras because they are mantras. David would have more than likely written them in seclusion and repeated them over and over as a prayer.
Of course, this particular stint of seclusion probably took place after the Prophet Nathan called David out and rebuked his actions. Hey, what are friends for? Someone had to voice what David knew he was burying deep within himself. Now, let’s look at how David frames Psalms 51 with the understanding of why he wrote it.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God.” The word for clean that’s used here is tahor (טָ֭הֹור) and is traditionally translated as pure in the Hebrew readings. According to Rabbi Maimonides the type of pure heart David is praying for is a heart and mind free from all external thoughts and deeds. Heart and mind in this sense would be more recognizable to modern minds as the conscious and subconscious.
In a nutshell, the actions we consciously choose with our minds have a direct effect on how our hearts connect to the Divine. We see this reflected with the opening word the verse, create. Bara (בְּרָא־) to shape, or create, is so far beyond mere prayer from a Prophet who lived 3,000 years ago
No. The Torah- the Five Books of Moses- literally starts with Bara. Bereshit BARA ELoHIM. “In the beginning when God…” Creation. Anytime we see the word bara we should immediately think of Gods creative activities. David is speaking direct to the ground of all being and asking to be created anew. He’s going deep into the heart space and asking the Creator to restore him.
So when David says “renew a steadfast spirit within me” he is asking for forgiveness. He is speaking to the wounded heart his actions caused, not just in himself but in those around him; Creator included. He is asking that his heart be repaired to wholeness. The kind of wholeness found in deep meditation, where heart and mind are one.
The only questions we should be asking ourselves now is:
- How do we develop a mind and heart free from all distractions?
- How does teaching such a state relate to the breath?
Simple. Basic meditation starts with using the breathe as a way to anchor ourselves in the present moment. It’s the basic framework to bring conscious awareness to why we do what we do. It shows us how much of our lives are spent on autopilot lost in thought.
Taking its step further, we don’t tend to consciously breathe because something much deeper within our being automates the process. Something at the level of subconscious makes sure our waking, wandering minds don’t even have the opportunity to forget to breathe.
Mystics have always agreed that our subconscious minds are woven into the very fabric of being and go well beyond the bounds of the sensory world. That wellspring beyond is the ticket into the throne room or whatever. Silence the waking mind and you move beyond your thoughts and deeds.
Follow the breath into your nostrils as it expands into your lungs and diaphragm into the core of your being. Exhale and follow it out.
David went on to say, “Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.”
What’s the word for Holy Spirit in Hebrew? Ru’ahh HakoDesh- the Holy breath/wind of God. There’s a deeper level to this statement but we’re going to skip that for now.
Simply by anchoring our awareness to the breath alone and putting your attention there you become an observer of your inner dialogue. You start to see how many of your thoughts arise from emotions and vise verse. You start to see how things outside of you trigger those thoughts and emotions.
Understanding how everything within and outside of us is interconnected leads us to a place of peaceful stillness. As in-
“Be still and know that I am the Lord.”