I do love Psalm 23.
I know I’ve said that before. Looking back, I see that I’ve written about Psalm 23 a few times and talked about it even more.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” It’s got to be one of the most universally well known passages of the Bible. The beautiful poetry of the good old King James Version is the language that’s probably most familiar and, like many bible passages, you might know it if you’ve ever been to church or not at all.
You could have memorized it in Sunday School or sung it in church or heard it at a funeral. But you might also know it from it’s many pop culture references, from being the go-to verse in books, movies and television for a funeral scene or the images in it that have appeared in songs by everyone from Duke Ellington to U2 to Coolio (remember the opening line of “Gangsta’s Paradise?”)
It speaks and speaks and speaks in so many ways. It talks about God’s presence and how God provides, nurtures and protects. It offers hope, comfort and strength. And because the author uses an image – the shepherd – personal to themselves and from their own time, it can also invite us to wonder about how we image God and our own relationship with God.
And that’s where I’m at this week. April 22 is Earth Day and I think Psalm 23 also speaks about our relationship with the earth.
Think about where God, the shepherd, leads us. The green pastures, the still waters, the valley of shadow, all these moments that we describe with the earth we know. Wherever we are in the geography of our lives, God is with us. We are restored and refreshed from our rest, lying down in the green pastures. Beside still waters we’re led down paths that are right. And even when are lives seem full of shadows, as if we are in the deepest valley, God goes there with us. Wherever we go, God’s presence leads us away from fear into the confidence of a life-giving relationship, one in which there is “goodness and mercy” that doesn’t have to be earned, only accepted.
Living with respect, care and love must be part of our relationship with the real earth, not just the metaphor. We are connected to it as closely as we are connected to God. I hear that in the psalm’s closing words, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” There I am quoting King James again, beautiful words causing me to wonder about where I live. I always thought this referred to the next life, when we go home to be with God. And maybe it does. In its historical context, it could also have meant the Temple, where the Hebrews believed God lived. Many christian traditions still refer to the sacred space of a church as “the house of God.”
I wonder if this earth isn’t the sacred space of God’s house, the physical manifestation of God’s presence in creation and us. Maybe we’re already home, in a way. Jesus, in John’s gospel, tells the disciples that “in my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2) Perhaps this is just one of the many dwelling places. Perhaps we are that connected to each other, to creation and to God. How should we care for our house?