Psalms, the Ten Commandments, and an Examination of Conscience
by Rev. Sharon Leman, MLA
Informed by both Catholic and Jewish sensibilities about sin, I created an “Examination of Conscience” as a tool for prayerful reflection on life—both its personal triumphs and its shortcomings. I chose the Ten Commandments as a basis of contemplation, as is often done in the Catholic Church, which I grew up in. Since the Ten Commandments were recorded as the word of God speaking to the Jewish people, I used the Jewish Study Bible.
Each commandment is followed by questions that expand on its essence as a means of personal inquiry. You can use these questions as a starting point to unearth the spiritual challenges that you are called to confront in your life. The questions are followed by modern renditions of selected Psalms, by Nan C. Merrill. These set the tone for an examination of conscience that transcends using a rote checklist, instead becoming a time of prayer and communion between God and soul.
The love of God is ever present, ever loving and ever moving in and around your life. As you engage in this contemplation, may Spirit be present, and may you deepen your well of compassion and fill your heart with love for God, for creation, and for yourself.
An Examination of Conscience
Before a deep contemplation of your acts, thoughts and deeds, take time to remember your heritage and ancestry. We walk in the path forged by those who came before us. Our ancestors do not condemn. They offer compassion and support to gently steer our gaze back towards that which has true meaning in life. Humanity has and continues to struggle to live a life that reflects faith. Be confident of your worthiness of love as the ancestors pray:
“May the Great Birther who created you in wholeness, comfort you when you call! May the Name of Love be your protection and rise up in your heart as a tower of strength! May all you have given in gratitude and with open hands be returned to you a hundredfold! May your heart’s desires and all of Love’s plans for you be fulfilled in due season! Let us shout for joy as Love triumphs over fear; Let our thankful hearts sing in loud acclamation to the Beloved, who answers our heartfelt prayers for well-being.” (Psalm 20, p. 32)
While progressing through the commandments, consider how Love might increasingly impact all aspects of your life.
1. I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage: You shall have no other gods besides me.
We are one with our God and all creation. What we do cannot help but affect others. What thoughts, words and actions do I maintain that fail to uphold this truth? Do I act like this life is all about me? Do I view myself separate from creation?
“Through Love Consciousness the heavens and earth were created, And all who dwell on earth by the Creator’s breath of Life. All creation, from the distant stars to the depth of the seas, Is held together by the Oneness of Love.” (Psalm 33, p. 56)
“Love Consciousness invites all people to co-creation, the nations to peace. Love Consciousness is our heritage, our birthright, to be awakened in every soul.” (Psalm 47, p. 88)
2. You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or in the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I the Lord your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Where is my focus in life? Who is it I trust? Is it God? Or, do I allow worldly possessions or monetary gain to become my idols of distraction?
“The ignorant go astray, following idol gods of illusion; they err in their blindness, fooling only themselves. They are filled with conceit and empty promises. As the hunter with sweet bait lures the deer with intent to kill, the weak become food for the arrogant.” (Psalm 58, pp. 107-108)
“Those who put their focus and trust in false idols separate themselves from You, O Love, Though You have seen my guilt and have noted my wrongdoings, You have not left me alone with my fears; rather, you have forgiven my folly and set my feet on Love’s path. My heartfelt gratitude knows no bounds, O Gracious Mender of Souls!” (Psalm 31, p. 52)
3. You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God; for the Lord will not clear one who swears falsely by His name.
God will not support untruths or false oaths. Do I make promises I do not intend to keep? Do I use “white lies” to avoid standing up for truth? What lies do I tell myself? Am I true to my Spirit, or do I attend to the fabrications of Ego?
“Compel me to know your ways, O Love; instruct me upon your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for through You will I know wholeness; I shall reflect your Light both day and night. I know of your mercy, Blessed One, and of your unconditional Love; You have been with me from the beginning. Forgive the many times I have walked away from You choosing to follow my own will. I seek your guidance, once again, I yearn to know your Peace. Companion me as I open to your Will!” (Psalm 25, p. 41)
4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall not do any work – you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
If God kept a Sabbath, do I follow this example? Is my busyness an excuse to avoid intimacy with God? with family? with friends?
“Yet, all too often glorious gifts of Grace, of Love and light, are veiled by my busyness. I bow down before You; instruct me, that I might choose the way of love and truth. I would live in your abundant Love, and my children as well. Your friendship is offered to all whose hearts are open; You make known your promises to them. My eyes are ever on You, Beloved, keep my feet from stumbling along the way.” (Psalm 25, p. 42)
5. Honor your father and your mother, that you may long endure on the land that the Lord your God is assigning to you.
Do I respect my elders? Do I care for those who cared for me? Do I show gratitude for the gifts I inherit?
“I have been a burden to many; now in You alone will I trust. I am filled with gratitude and sing your praises all the day. Do not abandon me in my old age; desert me not when my strength is spent, or when my mind plays tricks with me.” (Psalm 71, pp. 133-134)
6. You shall not murder.
I vote with my dollar. What kind of world are my purchases working to create? Who pays for my convenience? Do my purchases assist in the murder of children? trees? animals? communities?
“Do we not know, that the nations are not saved by military might, just as generals are not saved by their own strength? All such arms are the outward expression of greed in fearful hearts; they will reap only despair, death, and destruction. Behold, the Love of the Beloved is stronger than ten thousand bombs, more to be desired than the wealth of all nations. Do we not know that to dwell in the heart of the Beloved Is the promise to every nation, the birthright of all people, the journey to life eternal?” (Psalm 33, p. 57)
7. You shall not commit adultery.
Has infidelity crept into my relationship with God? Am I unfaithful and easily distracted? Do I direct my love to another? Do I love God only when it is convenient?
“What is my treasure but your Love? There is nothing upon earth that I desire besides You. My body and my mind may fail but you are the strength of my heart and my joy forever.” (Psalm 73, p. 141)
8. You shall not steal.
I take, but what do I give back? Am I stealing the future away from coming generations? In the name of my having to be right, do I talk over people and steal their voice? Does my complaining steal happiness? Has gratitude found a place in my life?
“I walk with friends of integrity, and associate with those who live in truth; I love the company of faith-filled people, and count myself among those who make your Word their own.” (Psalm 26, pp. 43-44)
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Do I take pleasure in the misfortune of others? Do I gossip? Are my words used as weapons?
“Let those who rejoice in another’s misfortune, in their shame become contrite; Let them be humbled and turn their hearts to You, O Beloved, all those who know not Love!” (Psalm 35, p. 63)
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house: you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female slave, or his ox or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
Do I need a bigger home? new clothes? nice car? How much is enough? When is accumulating more really filling my life with less?
“Give no heed to the greedy, attend not to those who do wrong. For, like the green grass of spring, they soon fade and wither away.” (Psalm, 37, p. 65)
“Forgive us for misuse and abuse of your Creation; humble us with your steadfast Love, before the world becomes a barren waste. Help us, O compassionate One, to renew the face of the earth; deliver us, and forgive our sins, that we might know the joy of co-creation!” (Psalm 79, p. 158)
“Restore us, O Holy One; let your face shine upon us, teach us to love!” (Psalm 80, p. 160)
May peace, love and compassion guide my life and dwell in my life. Amen.
1. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds., The Jewish Study Bible, Tanakh Translation, New York: Oxford, 2004.
2. Nan C. Merrill, Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness, New York: Continuum, 2008.
3. Huston Smith, The World’s Religions, UK: Labyrinth, 1994.