Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Shepherd and Sheep by Anton Mauve, c1880, Cincinnati Art Museum1
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.
— Psalms 23
It would feel wrong to extract any part of this much beloved and most beautiful of all the psalms, so I reproduce it here in full. Synchronistically, on the morning of writing this I began the day by tuning in to the latest offering from The Brandenburg Camino, my sister's choir, and the first piece was a beautiful rendition of Psalm 23 by the composer Howard Goodall.2 It was meant to be.
I first heard this psalm read aloud when I was in rehab in Wiltshire in 1987, so for me it has always felt like a prayer of recovery. For those beaten down by addiction and alcoholism, and perhaps for those crippled by depression, anxiety, trauma and phobia this psalm offers us restoration. We can be redeemed, we can be restored to health, we can be saved. Through the words of this psalm I learned to let go and trust God, to walk through my fear, to be still, to feel held, loved, and in turn to love others.
I was later offered an interpretation of the psalm which I found intriguing, and quite astute, so will share here. It seems to tease out the essential qualities inherent in each line, qualities that together make for a good life, a generous life, a life to embrace. I do not know the author, and I suspect it is one of those things that just emerged over time through the thoughts and words of many. I believe it took form in pre-internet times. Word of mouth and scraps of paper being the likely conduits. This psalm speaks with a universal voice.
The Lord is my Shepherd [Relationship]
I shall not want [Supply]
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures [Rest]
He leadeth me beside still waters [Refreshment]
He restoreth my soul [Healing]
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness [Guidance]
For His names sake [Purpose]
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death [Testing]
I will fear no evil [Protection]
For Thou art with me [Faithfulness]
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me [Discipline]
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies [Hope]
Thou annointest my head with oil [Consecration]
My cup runneth over [Abundance]
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life [Blessing]
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord [Security]
1A word about the painting: I chose this image as the shepherd is following, not leading his flock. The sheep know where to go, and only need someone to watch over them, not to direct or manage them. The Bible speaks of God's love, never of God's leadership. This then is a painting of God's love.
2 You can listen and view the performance here: The Camino Step 10: The Lord is my Shepherd