When I was a little girl, I would spend a week or two every summer at my grandparents’ house in Port Clyde, Maine. He was a minister and she was the church organist. In the pious atmosphere of their home, my eternal love for God, Christ, and the Bible was kindled.
One morning after I’d just gotten home from a visit with them, I announced I was going to be a minister and asked my mom if she’d like to hear my sermon on the twenty-third psalm. A bit dismissive, she replied that I went through this every time I visited them and would soon be on to other things.
Truth be told, she was right. I quickly moved on. Yet, throughout the changing tides of my life the twenty-third psalm has been a sure anchor. Although I no longer remember the content of my original childhood sermon, I thought it might be fun to share some reflections that come to mind today (see below).
In fact, I often begin my Centering Prayer meditation sessions by slowly reciting this psalm out loud, generally repeating it three times. Over the years, I’ve revised the psalm slightly in order to address God directly in contemporary language.
For me, this psalm and any reflections that arise are more than just words, ideas, or pleasantries that I tell myself to feel better. They are catapults that thrust me into a deeper kind of knowing that reveals itself in trust. This helps me settle my mind.
I might also clarify that when I pray this psalm, I don’t always go into so much verbiage as I have shared here. It’s more like opening myself to the felt sense of it all deep in my bones. Then I’m ready to move into my Centering Prayer meditation—open, relaxed, and receptive to God.
Lord, you are my shepherd.
For me, this means there is a guiding presence in my life. When praying the psalm, I try to open myself to this.
I shall not want.
I take this two ways. Everything I need is already supplied to me. Therefore, I can relax. It’s also a reminder not to cling too tight, not to always be chasing after the next thing.
You make me to lie down in green pastures.
Here I remember I was actually made for deep contemplation, to rest in God and to delight in the day.
You lead me beside still waters.
Following God’s lead, I enter into deep stillness. My whole body relaxes. I find satisfaction in the simple things of life. As I move into activity later, I’m reminded to do that with stillness as well.
You restore my soul.
In deep rest, open, with my heart set on God, my soul is restored. I am at peace.
You lead me in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake.
God is always guiding me into holiness (wholeness). Therefore, I can help others and bring them some measure of support, comfort, and joy too.
Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
I greet all that comes to me, even death, without fear. Sometimes I imagine just for a moment that I am dying, to see if I can trust this. Sometimes I can. Sometimes it’s not that easy.
For you are with me.
This is something I tell myself again and again. God is with me. I know what it means to feel safe.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
This returns me to the realization that I’m forever being guided and led. Sometimes that means something needs correction. I can trust that. I have an ever-present help. This is the basis for transformation.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
For me, enemies represent distractions, stress, difficulties, all my negative tendencies, my sense of self-importance, etc. I remember that even in the midst of all this messiness, a bountiful table is laid out before me. The weeds and the wheat grow up together.
My cup runs over.
Spirit, love, all of the divine qualities, well up inside me like living waters filling me beyond capacity.
Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me in all the days of my life.
I reflect for a moment on all the good things that surround me, trusting it will always be so.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I know I’m right where I’m supposed to be. As I deepen into my prayer, I let go of the doubt and pain. I know where I stand.