A shepherd’s staff has a crook for drawing the sheep away from danger, and a blunt end for prodding them toward places they would rather not go. This week’s texts embrace the tension between the two in the shepherd’s role.
It feels to me like evil is hovering over the prison in the form of a government ready to kill a woman who prayed with me when my father was dying of cancer. There isn't a thing I can do about it except pray this psalm and damn if we can't get it right.
In his years as a pastor my husband read the 23rd Psalm at the bedsides of quite a few people who were dying. It was the most frequently requested passage among those who were facing their own going and still able to choose. When I began to volunteer for hospice, I found, as he had, that even for people who had wandered far from church, even for the skeptical and the uncertain, even for those who were unused to prayer and didn't want to be prayed over, the 23rd Psalm provided a place of return that was beautiful, familiar, inviting, and reassuring.
And won’t you slow your pace, and let us look at least upon your shadow as you move? Your darkened form walks all too swiftly through these thickets, and some rams among our flock command me stay behind. They say my words disrupt their meditations, and my feet usurp the path that theirs would take. You need me, so they say, to be unseen, unheard, and let my sheepish silence be the sign of my devotion. Bleating arguments, we wait for you to turn; but until then we trot as troubled stragglers in your line,
not knowing how to reconcile our aims, or even if our shepherd is the same.
Several years ago, a neighbor of mine gave me a birdhouse. It was the perfect size and structure for bluebirds to build their nests inside. I put it on a wood post in the yard, which turned out to be a bad idea. Neighborhood cats dug their claws into the wood and climbed up to kill the newborn chicks. The nest became a grave.