Psalm 23 & Peace: Advent Meditation, 12/5/2012
By: Carrie Diaz-Littauer
The beautiful verses of this well-known psalm have afforded comfort and peace to weary and anxious souls for centuries. But sometimes I feel they are too good to be true. The green, lush, soothing place where a peaceful David is led feels like an unattainable dream. It is one faithful sheep’s interpretation – or expressed hope – of his reality. But can it be mine?
I am a sheep who often worries and frets, who has trouble finding her place in the pasture, knowing which pasture is hers, seeing what is around the bend, and who often finds herself in dark and isolated valleys wondering where to go next. Like many others at this stage of life, I question my vocation, where I belong, and if I have the resources or skills that I need to get there. In fact, I am a sheep who often forgets she has a shepherd and begins masquerading as one herself, relying on her own efficiency, education, and sense of direction.
But reading this psalm anew this Advent, I was comforted to remember David’s own story. He also had no idea what was ahead of him, and he was certainly no stranger to stress and anxiety. David’s best friend’s father was trying to kill him, pursuing him relentlessly – a terrifying situation many commentators believe to be the background of this psalm. And in the psalm just before this one we encounter a David who is wrestling with God’s presence and direction, who utters cries of forsakenness, yearns for salvation, and finds no rest.
And yet David’s words in this psalm are instructive. When emotions settle, when tears have been shed, and the clouds of the soul begin to lift, the words of Psalm 23 wash over David, and therefore us, as a healing balm. Is this not faith? That amidst the harsh, flawed, and messy realities of our lives, we still cling to and profess trust in a God who knows us and our needs more than we ever could.
The subject of this peace-filled story is not me, the sheep, but the shepherd. God is the one who is leading and guiding, who is restoring the soul, who extends a prodding staff in the darkness, and who prepares a table before my enemies.
So today, let us, like David, respond to our circumstances with hopeful affirmation and trust in God, our great Shepherd. Let us rejoice in God’s perfect, restorative provision for us, “for He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, p. 173).