Reflecting on Psalm 23

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O my Beloved, you are my shepherd, I shall not want; you bring me to green pastures for rest and lead me beside still waters renewing my spirit, you restore my soul.  You lead me in the path of goodness to follow Love’s way.

Even though I walk through the valley of

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O my Beloved, you are my shepherd, I shall not want; you bring me to green pastures for rest and lead me beside still waters renewing my spirit, you restore my soul.  You lead me in the path of goodness to follow Love’s way.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow and of death, I am not afraid; for you are ever with me; your rod and your staff they guide me, they give me strength and comfort.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of all my fears; you bless me with oil, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the heart of the Beloved forever.

Nan C. Merrill, Psalms for Praying

This Sunday (29 April), the focus at both Worship Services (8:30 & 11:00) will be Psalm 23. We will sing it (3 different hymns and 2 anthems), chant it, pray it and seek to lean into this ancient Hebrew poem.

The challenge and opportunity of the poem is its familiarity; we each, likely, have multiple experiences with Psalm 23. We might have memorized it early in our lives; it is often used at times of memorial. 

Instead of having a “normal sermon” this Sunday, I would like us to “gather” around the poem and risk a little sharing.

So, as preparation: what memories do you have of the “use” of Psalm 23? What occasions has it “come” to you?

Part of the power of Psalm 23, I think, and a critical part of what makes it so enduring is that in six verses of poetry, it describes the journey of us all.

We move from a spiritual place of nourishment (verses 1-3) where there is green, green grass, crystal, sustaining waters and clear pathways to dark and shadowy valleys (verse 4), and finally to wholeness and integration (verses 5-6) where there is balm for healing every wound, including those received from enemies or that we inflicted, mercy for all, and a table of abundance at which every shares the feast.

Throughout every phase, every place, every terrain, is the Presence and Companion:  the Good Shepherd, the Lord, the Sustainer and Redeemer.   It is our awareness of the Companion that changes; we are never left alone.

Start at the beginning:  where are the places, what are the practices, who are the people that bring your awareness to the green, green grass?  When have you been beside the “still waters?”

Each of our journeys includes passage through the valley of dark shadows and death.  A “Chinese proverb” says:  you can only walk halfway through a forest before starting the journey out the other side.  Death comes not just to our bodies, but to dreams and aspirations; sometimes even to our greatest hope.

What valleys have you crossed that either during the crossing or by looking in the “rear view mirror,” you could see the Companion walking beside you?

The journey of the 6-verse poem is from an awareness of abundance (green, green grass), through the difficult terrain of life and circumstance (shadows and death) and finally to a place of integration and wholeness.

The Table in the House of God is set in mercy and goodness, and it is set for all.  There is healing balm for those who have been wounded along the way; scars are softened with oil.  Strife comes to an end.  Enemies are no more, at their hand or ours ours.  Even the internal enemies we have made with those parts of our very selves that we reject are laid aside.  We are known and accepted.   The Welcome Feast is offered in abundance.

When have you had a foretaste of this feast?  When have you been welcomed home after a long journey?  When have you been startled, and maybe even relieved, by the place settings for all at the Table?

These reflections are also posted on Facebook (Shannon Michael Pater and Central Congregational United Church of Christ).  Please feel encouraged to leave comments and share.

Read more http://whereheartandmindmeet.ccuccatl.com/2012/04/27/reflecting-on-psalm-23/

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