"As the deer longs for the water-brooks,
so my soul longs for you, O God."
This past week, the choir at the church I serve sang a setting of this psalm. It wasn't consistent with the lectionary, but it carried the same plea of the lectionary psalm (Psalm 70).
These kinds of psalms are reorienting my thinking of what it means to be penitential. A pastor colleague shared with me that he was visiting a family in the hospital and while nothing seemed to be going right for this family, his prayer was something like, "God, we get it. Do something."
These kinds of prayers seem disrespectful, until we read the psalms over and over again and realize that the psalmist's cry was the same. "God, I need you." Like the water that makes up nearly 75% of our bodies, we need you, O God.
What does it mean to be penitential? Does it mean counting your sins and feeling appropriately guilty for them? Does it mean gritting your teeth and affecting an emotion of sadness and remorse? Maybe some of these things will come with being penitential, but I think that ultimately penitence is a deep understanding of our need for God.
There's a word that is probably more familiar that penitence or penitential - repent. To repent is to realize our deep insecurity, our sin, and to turn to God. This is recognizing our need for God.
Recognizing our need for God comes with practice. Sometimes, for our own sake, we need to fake this. Trying praying the Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner," every day in some way or another and repeat it over and over again. Make this a discipline. Make it a "go-to" prayer. This prayer will begin to shape your perception of yourself and your relationship with God. We fool ourselves if we think we don't need God. We fool ourselves if we think that we are without sin or insecurity.
We begin to realize that we must decrease, become less, and pray that God will help us not to make ourselves, our time, our interests the center of the universe. Longing for God comes with practice.
Speaking of water, I have been on a kick over the last year and it's one that I hope sticks. I have been trying to drink the amount of water that my body needs, which is about 75 to 100 ounces (which can come through our food as well as in a bottle). At first, I resisted, wanting something with "taste." But, the more that I drank and stuck with it, the more I felt the need for it. I would realize with acute awareness if I hadn't had any water to drink.
So much of our physical and spiritual lives is just nuts and bolts discipline. God gives us the grace we need to get out of the way of our need for him.