The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. —Ps 23:1
If you prompt me with the first verse, I can readily recite the remainder of the psalm (in the King James translation, poetic and familiar). These words which I had heard and spoken so many times, feel even richer after steeping myself in them for an evening. I had a wonderful opportunity to meet with a small group of people and discuss this psalm, using a method of lectio divina, and sharing with one another the responses we had to the reading. Listening to the psalm several times in a row, read slowly, allowing the words to rest on me in the silence, felt wonderful. Words that had seemed so familiar began to take on greater depth.
The first word the jumped out at me was “restores.” Earlier in the day I had been having a challenging time, and when I centered and found my quiet, that is how I had felt. Restored, as if a house inside of me had lost a piece of roofing in a storm and it had been put back in place securely.
In listening to the psalm, the image of shepherd stood out strongly. I have heard this word applied to God and to Jesus so many times, and always had the sense that this referred to the role of looking after human beings, protecting us from the wolves at our doors, as well as the role of guide. I had not reflected on the absolute dependence the sheep have on the shepherd, nor had I fully realized the connection to the idea of following God’s path. What would it mean to be shepherded?
One participant mentioned that her attention was resting on the phrase “he makes me lie down,” and I considered the idea of being required to rest, as on the sabbath. As I re-read that verse, this portion of the gospel of Matthew floated into my mind :
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. —Matt.11:28-30
When I was a girl and I heard the concluding phrase “and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps 23:6, KJV), I associated this “house” with heaven. Was that because my first exposure to the psalm was at funerals? Or because I perceived that God’s house was either a church building or a place only for the afterlife? I am grateful that I now hear this verse as “I will dwell in God’s house every day of my life.” Every place we are, that place belongs to God. This is true even when many places are full of ungodly activities—hate, warmongering, violence, hunger, greed, and I dare not go on, because the list is a lengthy one, and sorrowful. By the end of the evening I was grasping onto this image to carry with me: that when I feel I am walking in darkness, surrounded by darkness, I will try my best to remember that I am in God’s house, and God is in God’s house, even when it is hard to believe.