Reflection on the Shepherd’s Psalm

 The Lord is my shepherd; 
   therefore can I lack nothing.
  He makes me lie down in green pastures 
   and leads me beside still waters.
  He shall refresh my soul 
   and guide me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
  Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
      I will fear no evil; 
   for you are with me;
      your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
  You spread a table before me
      in the presence of those who trouble me; 
   you have anointed my head with oil
      and my cup shall be full.
  Surely goodness and loving mercy shall follow me
      all the days of my life, 
   and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Psalm 23. The Common Worship Psalter, The Church of England).

The most famous and beloved of all the Psalms, #23. And well it should be. It is used in spoken or sung form in Divine Offices, Eucharistic Liturgies and of course funerals. There is something very comforting and calming about Psalm 23. Like other Scriptures, however, when we over romanticize Psalm 23, we can easily miss the opportunity to listen carefully to what the Holy Spirit might be saying to our hearts.

Psalm 23 is a song of self surrender by holding nothing back. The shepherd guards us with great care and love. We do not lack anything, even a place of refreshment so long as we let ourselves go to the will and desire of the One who wants to lead us.

Psalm 23 meets us in our false-sense of self. None of us is exempted from the valley of the shadow of death, or being at a table in the presence of those who trouble us. That spot in us that does not want discomfort or to be called out of our tombs of shame, fear and doubt cannot be our permanent dwelling. God has given to the contemplative a desire for a full cup, with the anointing of the oil of faith, hope and love. The contemplative knows that the fulfillment of mysticism is to dwell in God’s presence in the here and now; and beyond this temporal life.

The Resurrection tells us that death is not a barrier for God’s Grace to help us. When we surrender ourselves to search for union with God, with a desire for purity of heart that lives into wanting nothing more than God alone; the story of Christ’s Resurrection becomes our life’s Easter narrative.

“We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that in every place the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked (Prov. 3:15). But beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the Divine Office.” (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English, p.47).

How is your heart hearing and responding to the words of Psalm 23 today?

Amen.

Peace be with all who enter here.

Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB

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