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Jenny's Psalm Reflections: 51 verse 1

Today’s verse is Psalm 51 verse 1

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.”


Psalm 51 begins with the sentence “Have mercy on me, O God” and it is traditionally believed to have been written by King David as a confession to God after he sinned with Bathsheba. In Latin it is known as Miserere.

One of the most beautiful and spine-tingling musical settings of Psalm 51 is Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere.” Allegri has one group of singers singing a simple Miserere chant and the other group weaves theirs around them. Allegri (1582-1652) composed it for the Tenebrae service in Holy Week which began at dusk. During this service, all the candles in the chapel would have been slowly extinguished, one by one, until finally there was a lone candle burning-which was then hidden. I experienced my first Tenebrae Service when on my Easter retreat as a final year ordinand and it was immensely atmospheric and powerful and left a feeling of total loss of God’s presence and the effect of the death of Jesus on all of us. We all left in silence to reflect upon the impact of Christ’s death and to await that light and mercy which can never be extinguished in the forthcoming resurrection.

As we know ourselves, when relationships are broken, we feel the pain of separation. When they are restored, we feel refreshed and like a new person. The overall theme of the Psalm is a petition for forgiveness, cleansing and renewal through a process of confession and thanksgiving. Although we are not perfect and have sinned in many ways, we know that by the grace of God, we are truly loved and forgiven. The glorious message of the church which we don’t speak of often enough, is the grace of God is God’s special and unconditional love for all people. Thanks be to God!

I suggest that during our reflection on verse 1 that you listen to Allegri’s Miserere in the background. Here is a link to King’s College Choir, Cambridge.

Play Now


1. Find a quiet place. 

Make sure that you are in a quiet place. Sit comfortably but alert – feet flat on the floor, back pushed hard against the back of the chair. Start your reflection with hands cupped open ready to be open to God’s presence.

2. Focus on your breathing.

Pay attention to in-breaths and out-breaths. You may think of breathing in God’s life and peace and breathing out any tension.

3. Be aware of your body.

Let your aches and pains be there. Rest your hands in your lap; you don’t need to be doing anything with them now. Rest your feet on the floor; you don’t need to go anywhere. Shrug your shoulders, ease your neck. Take time to become still…

4. Say the verses aloud to yourself.

Say verse1 to yourself and don’t try to analyse it. Repeat slowly, listening to the music.


Sit quietly and embedded in the music and feel God’s love in your deep core. Make a note of anything you want to remember during this meditation.  Close the prayer with your hands cupped open as you finish with the prayer below.

6. Finish with this prayer:

Heavenly Father, take away our sin, make our sorrows part of our healing, and restore, by grace, our relationship with you, that we may work to your glory in the community of God’s people. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Posted on September 9th 2021

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