“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgression . . . create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me”. (Psalm 51:1, 10, NRSV)
The mind was created to hold memories; the good, the bad, and the ugly. God has so designed the mind that it is virtually impossible to forget painful experiences barring a medical or psychological trauma that results in temporary or permanent amnesia. The wounds of the mind we have sustained in racial wars run deep and the best we can do with negative memories is to put them in a place where they don’t impede our healing or interfere with the new thing God is trying to do in us. Race and notions of reconciliation are personal and our sensitivities often cause our ego defenses to kick in and hinder our ability to do the personal work required to heal our wounds and reconcile with the wounded. If we say we don’t see color we are in denial of the ghosts of yesterday that still wander the streets of our memories. If we say the race issue was one for our ancestors and not for us, then we are rationalizing the racial and gender issues that still exists and we border on self-deceit. If we say the ‘others’ have simply misunderstood us it becomes easier to project our hurt and our guilt onto the ‘others’, thereby distorting the pictures in our memories.
In this text, David has apparently come to grips with his sins – all of his sins and not just the ones that were made public. Sometimes the sins of racial and gender discrimination that we hold tightly in our memories and never release through our speech or behavior are the ones that fester and do the most damage. Precious memories are only possible when we follow David’s example and beg God to clear the way for new attitudes that demand behaviors born out of justice and equality for all people. The healing has begun when we, like David, realize that racial slurs and unjust treatment of anyone who doesn’t look like us is a sin against God and God alone. When we reflect back on our history here in America – and we must think back in time because we don’t have amnesia – our ability to reconcile racial and gender inequities will depend in large part on our personal acknowledgment of our part in the war between the races and pleas to God for mercy and a clean heart. Then perhaps negative images of the past that wound the mind can be replaced with precious memories.
Dr. Sherrill McMillan