Psalm 23 (KJV)
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
The very fabric of everyday life is changing before us; these are unprecedented times. In the midst of this, we’re invited to find God and some have little more than their bible to help. We reflect on Psalms 23 and its implications for our lives—now, more than ever.
It is easy to feel that we are now indeed walking through the “darkest valley” and that there is no end in sight. But, as everything with God, we are invited towards greater trust—and in the process experience more hope, peace, and beauty in the midst of suffering.
Walter Brueggemann, in his book, The Message of The Psalms, categorizes all 150 psalms into one of three movements—orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. Each of these movements exemplify a fragment of the human experience:
I. Orientation: when everything feels right and content in our lives.
II. Disorientation: when life feels difficult, dark, and broken. There is lament. There is despair.
III. Re-Orientation: when God pulls us out of the brokenness of life and we are brought to a deeper sense of awareness and gratitude.
Brueggemann argues that we go through rhythms of orientation to disorientation to re-orientation—it is part of the natural human experience.
This is the beauty of Psalms 23, and perhaps why it has become one of the most famous passages in human history. In this single passage all three movements exist; Psalms 23 is a compilation of the entire rhythm of the human experience.
The first three verses are of orientation: “The Lord is my sheperd; I shall not want.” Life is good, happy, blessed. The Lord provides us with lush green pastures and refreshing waters. God is known to be reliable and a source of all our needs. Verse four suggests disorientation—the “darkest valley”—a description of the trauma and suffering we go through as humans and communities. And, later in verse four, there is re-orientation. The psalter declares, “for you are with me”. There is an expression of trust and confidence in the presence of God in spite of suffering.
These are uncertain times. The future feels out of our control. In many ways, we have just moved from orientation to disorientation.
But, as a community, we are invited towards re-orientation. We are invited into the natural rhythm of the human experience—to move from disorientation to re-orientation and to declare “for you are with me”. And so, this means we should do our part in our communities—practice social distancing, wash our hands—but it also means we should pray and recall “surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” May it be so. Amen.
I praise you for being my shepherd,
and because of your grace,
I lack nothing.
Lead me beside quiet waters and green pastures,
as I trust in you each day.
Refresh, revive, and restore my soul,
as you lead me along paths of righteousness.
This is for your name’s sake-
that your name may be uplifted, honoured and glorified.
Even during the times when I walk through the darkest valley.
I will not fear.
You, the Good Shepherd, are with me.
You are the Lamb of God,
and you conquered death and the grace,
once and for all!
Your rod and staff give me comfort.
You lavishly provide me with a feast of abundance,
in the presence of my enemies.
I am anointed with the oil of joy-
and my cup overflows.
As long as I live,
your mercy and goodness follow me.
I will dwell, reside and abide in your presence,
forever and ever.
To God be the glory!
© Emma Stephenson 21/04/2021
this reflection & prayer may be shared as long as the original writer is credited.