I Shall Not Want

Psalm 23

Isn’t this painting gorgeous? It is called “The Beeches,” because it features beech and basswood trees, but I chose it because of the shepherd and sheep on their way down the road. One of the readings for this Sunday is the 23rd Psalm, and this painting illustrates the tranquil peaceful mood that is often associated with that Psalm. All is well because the Good Shepherd is walking with us.

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, it can be hard to recognize Jesus on our journey. Sometimes we feel like we are on the wrong road. Sometimes we feel as if we’ve marched off the map completely. A pandemic will do that to you.

Psalm 23 candidly faces the inevitability of dark places. Notice the psalmist doesn’t say “if I walk through the valley” but “though I walk through the valley….” It’s pretty much guaranteed. Life isn’t always loaded tables and overflowing cups. Sometimes we’re not lying in green pastures but flailing in blue Mondays. Sometimes we’re not resting by the shore of still waters but struggling to keep our head above water.

During these times, a shepherd sounds pretty nice. Someone who has been down the road before. Someone who knows the way and can protect us with their rod and staff.

Because in dark places, a rod and a staff are pretty handy things to have. For the shepherd, the rod was used to beat away anything that may threaten the sheep. It beat bushes for snakes and kept wild beasts at bay. The staff, on the other hand, with its crooked end, is used to hook gently around a sheep’s neck to draw the sheep in; to guide them; to rescue them from ledges or keep them from going down the wrong path. Because from all accounts, sheep aren’t the brightest bulb in the pack and often are in need of rescuing.

But the psalmist makes it plain that God does not intend for us to sojourn in those dark places alone or forever. The valley is something one goes through. Valleys are not resting places, but passageways. We can walk through our problems and pain. We can walk through our messes and meltdowns. And Psalm 23 promises us through it all, the Lord will walk with us.

Being Human connection: I pray that you may be able to trust that truth and it will bring about the tranquil peaceful feeling depicted in this painting.

Featured art: Asher Brown Durand, “The Beeches,” 1845. The Met.

About the artist: Durand was a founding member of the Hudson River School, the first society of artists formed on American soil. The members were known for “plein air,” which means painting outdoors. This allowed for the accurate reproduction of lighting and shade. They were known for their reverential, carefully observed paintings of untouched wilderness in the Hudson River valley of New York. The Hudson River School remained the dominant school of American landscape painting throughout most of the 19th century. (source: Britannica.com)