The Twenty-Third Psalm

A short and simple blessing and guide to life.

The Scripture

Psalm 23
New International Version

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for His Name's sake.

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and your staff — they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
for my whole life long.

Photo of a flower

This Week's Reflection by Deborah Beach Giordano
July 23, 2018

Comfort and Joy

The Lord is my shepherd…

lambAhhh. The glorious 23rd Psalm! We teach it in Sunday School, recite it at baptisms and at funerals, and often call upon it in times of ill health and troubles. It is a one-stop shop for comfort and joy.

In a scant few verses we are immersed in a sweet and tender word picture of what must surely be paradise: an endless expanse of green pastures, a gently flowing stream, and lambs — those utterly adorable, terrifically cute and fluffy creatures. Just makes you want to take a deep breath and relax, doesn’t it?

Why not do that right now?

Take a deep breath; raise your eyes, look around you, and be still.

Just for a moment, be right where you are — and realize that the holy Presence is there, too. Wherever you are, it is as if you are in the midst of a green pasture, resting beside a quiet stream, safe and protected by a trustworthy guardian.

❧ ❧ ❧ ❧ ❧ ❧

More to the Story

Alas, life is more than bright skies and fluffy sheep; there will be pains and sorrows and troubling times. Our faith doesn’t eliminate challenges or clear every obstacle from our path, but it gives us the courage to face them; to “walk through the darkest valleys,” confident that we will make it safe to the other side.

Many of you will note that I’ve chosen to use a contemporary translation of that phrase, although there is great power and poetry in the traditional King James version. Perhaps “the valley of the shadow of death” focuses our thoughts unduly on our physical demise, rather than on the “gray areas” of life that we must navigate on an almost-daily basis.

There are situations and conditions that are confusing and sometimes deceptive: our choices are not always clear-cut — it’s rarely between perfect good or abject evil, but somewhere in between. How shall we decide, in this gathering darkness, which way to go?

Character is what you are in the dark.
    ~ D.L. Moody

And what of the results of our deciding; what happens when things go wrong, when our choices turn out badly, when our best efforts are for naught? Then we must make our way through another deep, shadowy valley; the one filled with the temptations of denial, blame, and deceit.

Perhaps it is indeed “the valley of the shadow of death” that we walk through, filled with our shadowy, hidden impulses to harm and hurt and destroy; to seek revenge, to judge and condemn. When we succumb, it can become a valley of quicksand, dragging us deeper into the mire of hatred and wickedness, eroding our spirit, damaging our souls.

But we need not fear, as the psalmist has said: God is with us, and if we rely on the teachings and the Promise, we will find our way through whatever troubles we may encounter. We will not despair or surrender, but will follow our Lord with faith and courage.

The Other Side

Clearly our safe transit across the “shadowy valley” can also apply to our passage from this life to the next. It is, after all, the ultimate unknown; the stark darkness that may fall at the height of the noonday sun.

As with all other crossings, we can face this Final Valley with fortitude and faith, confident that we have a compassionate Shepherd who will lead us forward. But, unlike other valleys which may appear without portent or prediction, this one looms, ever-present, an aspect of our life’s landscape that we cannot avoid.

shadows

In youth we often ignore or mock the notion of mortality, but then comes the terrible discovery that all that lives, will die — and no one knows the day or the hour; for some the time comes in a twinkling, for others the journey takes much longer. We do not know the why nor the when, we only know that the dark passage is not the exclusive domain of the aged and infirm.

With the gift of foreknowledge, we can prepare ourselves to traverse the shadowed road free and lighthearted. It is the simplest (but not easiest!) thing in the world: it is to be guided and led the Good Shepherd. It is to live in this world as if we are already in the Next: with effusive joy, profound gratitude, abundant compassion, and tender mercy toward all creation. Then, when our time comes, we will already be more than halfway Home.

The Bountiful Feast

a bountiful feastNext the psalm evokes the image of a divine meal prepared for us.

We dine at God’s own table as welcome friends, and are consecrated to the Lord with the oil of anointing. We are bound to the Holy One as a priestly class as well as through table fellowship: we are not only servants, but friends of the Beloved.

We are claimed and blessed and empowered by God’s fulsome grace. We have more cause for gratitude than we can express, more than our fill of good things: “my cup overflows.”

Human Nature?

I omitted a detail from the description of the divine feast. We are told that as it is being prepared for us, our enemies will be there, watching — apparently excluded and envious. You have to laugh. We can never quite shake our yearning to lord it over our enemies. Even in the midst of recounting God’s extravagant generosity and faithfulness, the psalmist could still imagine that we would take delight in witnessing the humiliation and suffering of those who oppose us. Surely we can do better. Surely we can be better.

radiant heart

Surely in paradise our souls will be so filled with light, our hearts so illuminated by love, that there will be no place for hatred or scorn or envy. And if, as I suggest, we are called to live as though we already have one foot “on the Other Side,” then we should behave accordingly and show forth the character of our glorious citizenship in everything that we say and do, in all that we hope for, pray for, and believe.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
as long as Life lasts.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Excercise

Just for a moment, be right where you are — and realize that the holy Presence is there, too. Wherever you are, it is as if you are in the midst of a green pasture, resting beside a quiet stream, safe and protected by a trustworthy guardian.