Revolutionary Shepherd

When we say, The Lord is my shepherd, we have just contradicted the powers of this world and the anxieties of our soul. If the Lord is truly my shepherd, then truly, I shall not want. Truly, I have everything I need. And if we do not live in want, if there is no lack and we really do have all that is necessary to make our way in this life we’ve been given, then what in God’s name do we fear?

We fear that the ‘enough’ will peter out. We fear that we will not be seen, that our voice or our words won’t matter. We fear that aloneness is our final lot. Too many of us fear there will be no food at the end of the month or that our children will never escape the violence. We fear the lurking dread that we will be found out, stark naked in the square, our insufficiency and foolishness bare to all. We fear that it’s all a lie, we fear that we don’t have all we need.

Yet to every fear, this pronouncement: The Lord is my shepherd.

And this is the shepherd who lays us down in green meadows and guides us beside clear, blue waters. In a culture that knows next to nothing of gentleness and peace, this is a strange and beautiful promise.

As we know too well, however, all is not sunshine and clovers. It’s interesting to me that, on certain years, the lectionary has us pray Psalm 23 in both Lent and Easter. The Shepherd is with us in life, and in death. Life under the shepherd’s care does not mean we’ve found the lucky formula for circumventing the dark sinkholes of our world, not in the least. The shepherd showed us the cries of one abandoned. The shepherd descended into the hellish caverns. Then the shepherd says, follow.

And follow we can, with boldness and hope and even a bit of wanderlust in our eye – because even when we go (and we will) through the valley of the shadow of death, we possess the courage to stare evil down and say, “Move over, bub. I’m passing through. The Shepherd’s got this.”

Our lives are more secure than we’ve ever imagined. But it is a disruptive security because it means we relinquish authority over defining what it is we need — and we like to be in charge of what we need. We like to keep tally, and we find a perverse comfort in fretting over our future. However, there is no need to fret, no need to keep score, no need to fear.

As St. Augustine said, “When you say ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ no proper grounds are left for you to trust in yourself.” And when you don’t have to carry the weight of trusting in yourself, you’re free as a lark.


The Ground of Love

snow light over barn

The earth, O Lord, is full of your love.

The Psalmist prays this singular line fixing our attention on the center truth of the universe. Interspersed among other words describing acute distress, affliction, lies, entangling wickedness, rage and derision, this single-line prayer, in the most literal sense, grounded him.

These sparse words grounded him in God’s kind faithfulness by grounding him in the very dirt on which he knelt. The earth, goes the prayer, is full of God’s love. Not the temple. Not his friendships. Not the fulfillment of miraculous provision. Not even, in this case, Holy Scripture. But the dirt – the boulders and the pebbles and the shrubs and the miles-deep stratum of soil, rock and shale – course with the relentless love of God.

And this love of which the Psalmist speaks is defined by compassion, tenderness, a heart-rich kindness that will not let loose. The Latin word is misericordia, a tenacious love pursuing those whose hearts know too well the miseries of this world.

The ground on which we walk and live, struggle and weep, dance and make love, pulses with God’s active, tender mercy. In the truest sense, we are held up, every moment of our life, by love.