Speaking with God from the Depths of the Heart
Now again with the same sighs
from my distressed heart
pouring out the same wordy strains,
I seek your mercy, bestower of all gifts,
and with my soul immersed in torment 1
like the dead, I pray to you
living, immortal God, confessing
before your honor, my disgrace,
before your goodness, my evil.
I am more devastated than cured,
more embarrassed than emboldened,
having broken my vows and forsaken
the trust reposed in me.
I am like the pathetic sheep in the second parable,2
which strayed into inaccessible hills
and wandered in a daze among beastly demons3
and fierce idols, without the slightest chance of
returning to the fold. Although my tongue was lost
for words to tell my anguish, and my hands
lacked the agility to communicate like the mute,
still you found me, you who alone
are praised from beginning to end
throughout the generations.
You found me, a sinner, lost in darkness
crying like the psalmist in prayer,4
and because of your willing care
you were called Shepherd, for not only
did you care, but you sought,5
not only did you find, O worker of miracles,
but with the goodness of your love,
a love that defies description,
you rescued me,
lifting me upon your shoulders,
to set down alongside your heavenly army,
the heirs to your fatherly legacy.
And now, mighty savior,
blessed visitor, compassionate comforter,
you, who heard the unspoken supplication
of one suffering in silence at death’s door,
and of another who wandered into
the wilderness, helpless, lost,
unable to speak, bleating inarticulately,
you, who in your divine providence that
graces the universe,
cared for those lost or in peril, now
show again your compassion and the bounty
of your kindness to me whose iniquity
exceeds everything told above,
whose mortal sins come in all varieties,
whose flavor is that of evil among the
sweet taste of goodness,
whose body deserves to be broken to the last bone,
whose wounded soul is infected with
all manner of vile ills,
whose stupor is on a level with the speechless beasts,6
whose alienation has removed him from intelligent life,
whose nature no longer resembles that of his species.
If there were an example, I would cite it.
If there were others like me, I would describe them.
If there were a category, I would name it.
If there were my equal, I would note it.
If there were a parallel, I would mark it.
If there were a model, I would show it.
If there were a precedent, I would use it.
If there were a present example, I could take heart.
But since mine surpasses all measure
and defies all categories, you are my only hope of
atonement, healing and salvation,
redeemer of all mortals, renewer of the universe.
For if in the view of blessed David’s pure heart,
his lawlessness was piled over his head,
his transgressions outweighed the heaviest
burdens, then my wrongs are even greater than
all the waters of seas in torrential flood,
inundating and submerging the mountains.
Release but a breath of your kindness7
as in Noah’s day, a breath that can melt mountains,
and the stormy flood of my billowing misdeeds
will evaporate along with
my earth-shattering transgressions
and my mountain-high sins.
Now with your sharp and mighty word
and the unbounded discretion of your swift judgment,
give me a way to redeem myself, even as the Prophet
promised, even in my advanced stage of lawlessness.8
And forgiving my stubborn defiance,
O long-suffering, merciful, blessed one,
be truly generous and forgive me all at once,
wiping out my unrepayable debts
and the crushing interest which has accrued,
for you have no wrath in your heart, nor vexation,
nor deceit, nor traces of darkness,
for you wish only life and light.
And as David and Solomon attest,9
you did not make death or take
joy in human misery.
In your just laws, you set as a key rule
that one wrong should not be returned for another,10
but that we should forgive seventy times seven11
the sins committed against us each and every day.
You addressed this to us, wicked by nature,
the germs of sin sprouting in tens of thousands
upon the fertile field of our thorny natures.
As you so rightly witnessed, “The human mind
from childhood is inclined toward evil.”12
Even John, the Evangelist of your word of life,
who was exceedingly pure, nevertheless
shared our common nature and said frankly
in contrast to my roundabout manner of speech,
“If we say that we have no sin, we make him a liar.”13
And now, your prophetic word is fulfilled
and borne out beyond question by my iniquities.
So deliver me with your mercy,
O fount of lovingkindness,
who alone are blessed through all eternity.