The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures,
Beside still waters he leads me.
If I were a sheep, the opening words to this hymn of praise written by a shepherd boy named David over 3,000 years ago would be describing heaven to me. A field of lush green grass to graze upon and a pool of cool water to drink from. Having my fill, I would fall into a peaceful slumber, feeling as safe as a sheep could possibly feel because my Shepherd is near, with his soothing voice and his mighty staff.
Psalm 23 is probably the most recited set of Bible verses in the world. So when I read in The Ignatian Adventure, by Kevin O’Brien, SJ, that I was to rehash this well known psalm for my morning meditation, I felt duped. I wanted something with some meat in it, something I could chew on for a while, feel real blessed and holy when I left my quiet place. But this, “The Lord is my shepherd?” What am I expected to get out of this well worn, over worked scripture? But the Holy Spirit is a wise one, and she had a surprise for me.
By the time I began my third pass through this magnificent hymn, I felt I was reading each line for the first time, amazed at the wisdom and depth.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
My soul is restored, not for my sake, but for the sake of his very name, The Shepherd. What person whose job it is to take care of sheep, would do any less?
Lo, though I walk through the valley of the
Shadow of death I will fear no evil.
Your rod and staff comfort me.
Then the darkness, which must come for us all, descends. It cannot be avoided. Each of us has our own version of dark valleys that we must pass through. Valleys where death lurks, where loved ones leave us, where pain is unrelenting, where children die of cancer, where acts of evil are visited upon the innocent. But if I keep my eye on the Shepherd, even if all I see are his feet and hear the thump of his staff on the earth that I am sprawled on, I can be certain I will come through this. I will not be left to die.
You set before me a banquet in the sight of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Light always follows darkness. The banquet is never far away. A lavish feast where I have everything I need, where family and loved ones celebrate with me. Where good food and wine, song and dance, laughter and joy abound. A place where the warm oil of love is generously poured over my head and my soul is overflowing with abundance. Love so full that I become a vessel of love and pour forth the same grace and love that the Shepherd has lavished upon me, onto others.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
And I shall dwell in the house of the lord forever
I will never doubt that this is the pattern of life. Always, we start with fertile ground where we are born and nurtured, held in the safety of our cocoon, until we are ready to emerge a whole being. Then comes the trial by fire. But I’ve been here before and I know there is comfort to be had while I traverse the darkness. I know that the banquet always awaits.
Jesus often told parables of the banquet to describe the Kingdom of Heaven. [Matt 22: 1-14, Luke 14: 12-24] I know that I will never leave his love or his abode. This is my staff of hope.
As I completed my quiet time, I realized that Psalm 23 describes the Paschal Mystery that we celebrate at every Mass. We all are born into a life of grace, we suffer and die and then we rise again. Life, Death and Resurrection; the eternal truth, the holy mystery, revealed centuries before Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection by his ancestor, King David.