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Psalm 51: Have Mercy, Lord

This setting of Psalm 51 was submitted by David Kai, with words by Flora Litt and music by David Kai. It is a modern setting of this psalm of repentance in language, melody, and harmony.

Psalm 51


How does this psalm piece interpret the psalm? 
Psalm 51 is a favorite for its heart felt confessional nature. However, one of the problems with the use of Psalm 51 in modern multicultural congregations is the equation of darkness/blackness to evil and sin, and lightness/whiteness with goodness and purity. This version of the psalm addresses some of these concerns, using more nuanced words to describe sin, cleanliness, and purity; it is an attempt to make the psalm at least a bit more inclusive and culturally aware. While pressing issues of racial inequality and injustice will not be solved only by changes in language, it is important that the church work toward fullness of life and justice for all of God’s people. The melody and harmony seek to emphasize attitudes of both repentance and hope. In my opinion it is not helpful to lead the congregation into a time of confession and leave them to wallow in self-denigration and self-pity. This version of the psalm is intended to lead us through self-reflection and confession into worship, adoration, and hope.  

Psalm 51(Have Mercy, Lord)
Word adaptation: Flora Litt Music: David KaiTune: Heart Mountain*

1.Have mercy Lord, and in your love,
cleanse me from all my guilt.
For I can see the wrong I've done;
I'm conscious of my sin.

2.Lord you are right in judging me;
truth is what you require.
Teach me, O God, and fill my mind,
Your wisdom I desire.

3.Remove the shadows from my soul
and make me clean as the snow.
Let gladness break into my heart
That all your joy I may know.

4.Create in me a pure heart, Lord,
a new right spir't within.
Help me be willing to obey
and in your presence live.

5.Remove the shadows from my soul
and make me clean as the snow.
Let gladness break into my heart
that all your joy I may know.

6.Submissive now I come, O God,
a song of thanks I raise.
Lord, take my lips, my heart my life,
and fill me with your praise,
and fill me with your praise.

*It is my custom to name my hymn tunes after camps and towns where Canadians and Americans of Japanese descent were interned during the Second World War. In this way I hope to ensure that these places and injustices will not be forgotten.The Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming held almost 14,000Japanese Americans removed from the west coast of the USA.

Liturgical Suggestions:

I envision this psalm being led by a choir or singer while the congregation uses it to prompt reflection and repentance. The song could also be used as an anthem or introit, especially in a service with a theme of repentance and renewal. This psalm is well-suited for an accompanying liturgical dance. 

Score in PDF available:

Copyright Information:

Text: Psalm 51; Flora Litt, © 2019 Flora Litt  
Music: David Kai ©2019 David Kai  
Used by permission.  
Contact: David Kai ( and the estate of Flora Litt (