The Peace of Pasture
Some years ago, I was working with a youth group; the lesson of the day involved the 23rd Psalm. I was co-teaching that session with the associate pastor of the church, and the entire exercise was revealing on many counts. For example, the pastor I was teaching with emphatically did not like the KJV translation of Psalm 23, but the youth lovedit. As much as the pastor cringed at the archaic translation, the youth embraced the drama and rhythm of the "-eth" endings, and especially enjoyed "yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death." They also vastly preferred the permanence of dwelling in "the house of the Lord forever" instead of the more modern phrasing "my whole life long." Each of us had a different phrase, verse, or word from the psalm that spoke to us: mine was the image of the green pastures and the still waters, my fellow teacher gravitated towards the rod and staff, but the youth were in the valley, they were at table in the presence of bullies, enemies. Interestingly, no one in the group that day held "I shall not want" as their personally important line from the psalm.
I often think of that lesson day with the youth. These were high school students, now all in or graduated from college, and yet they felt as pursued and as in danger of harm befalling them as the Psalmist, David. I wonder: do all students feel that same looming fear? What would it take for us, as believers in the loving Kingdom of God to find a way to show all who feel the fear of persecution that the Good Shepherd is present?
Too often the image of the Good Shepherd from Psalm 23 appears "cuddly" or even ephemeral in our imaginings, a benevolent being bestowing bounteous bequests in the peace of the pasture, preserved from peril (alliterated to emphasize the schmaltz of the image). In reality, this Good Shepherd is tough business. The Shepherd not only knows what you need for survival and nourishment, but this Shepherd also provides protection when needed; this Shepherd offers support and strength, personal courage to help you in times of need. This Shepherd accompanies you through your darkest hour, that spark of hope, the light that shines and cannot be overcome, comfort in time of need; the Shepherd also provides the prod to keep you moving. The Shepherd encourages us to take time fore self care, rest, a break from that which overwhelms, because the Shepherd knows that in taking that time for rest and reflection, in the peace of the pasture, our souls are restored, and we can walk whatever valley we must to do work that reflects God's grace in the world.
~Rev. Andrea Joy Holroyd