Tomorrow is Good Shepherd Sunday, which got me thinking about the 23rd Psalm. There’s nothing particularly holy about the job of shepherding–it’s just that a gifted poet had been a shepherd and so could write about the ways the job reminded them of the Lord. And all the original listeners were also familiar with the job of shepherd, so they would have understood everything David was trying to say without a lot of explanation.
On the other hand, most of us these days don’t know a lot about shepherding. We need to learn about what the job entailed in order to understand all that David is saying.
For example, “your rod and your staff / they comfort me,” never made any sense to me (what’s comforting about a big stick?) until I read Nogah Hareuveni’s Tree and Shrub in Our Biblical Heritage (1984), and Desert and Shepherd in Our Biblical Heritage (1991). Shepherds in Israel would make a rod out of an olive tree spur that still had a knot of trunk at one end. When they were walking in the middle of the flock (they lead the flock from the middle more often than they lead from the front) they’d toss the rod in front of the flock so the sheep in front would know which way to go, and that heavy knot would help the rod carry far. So the rod, as the symbol of the shepherd, tells the anxious sheep at the front which way to go. I can see how that could be a comfort to the sheep: “I can’t see our shepherd, but he is still leading and guiding me. Phew.”
But I had to learn that. It didn’t come as part of my cultural knowledge.
One of my favorite things to do with children is rewrite Psalms so they directly reflect the things that are happening in their lives, so the metaphors and analogies are drawn from their experiences.
So why not do that for Psalm 23? Below are two attempts to do just that.
The Lord is my COVID-19 nurse; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in my hospital bed; he leads me through my breathing exercises. He renews my strength. She guides me as my oxygen levels change, bringing honor to her name. Even when I have to be intubated And my organs begin to fail, I will not be afraid, For you are close beside me. Your PPE and your kind, tired eyes protect and comfort me. You prepare all my medications for me in the presence of the virus. You honor me by flipping me onto my stomach. My canela overflows with oxygen. Surely your goodness and competence will sustain me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.
The Lord is my preschool teacher; I have all that I need. He lets me rest on my sleep mat; he leads me out to the playground. He renews my curiosity. She guides me to make good choices, bringing honor to her name. Even when I walk through the 5th graders hallway, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your staff pass and Time Timer protect and comfort me. You prepare a snack for me in the presence of the mean kids. You honor me by putting my drawing up on the wall. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing patience will teach me all the days of my life, and I will make good choices and share forever.
Now it’s your turn. What’s a job where you see God at work? Where you can see characteristics of God in what a person in that job does? Write your own Psalm 23 in the comments 🙂