The psalm at Mass tonight was Psalm 23, and we sang a paraphrased setting of it by Marty Haugen. I’ve sung it dozens of times before, but this time the refrain took my imagination somewhere new.
Shepherd me, O God
We’re used to seeing shepherd as a noun, “the Lord is my shepherd” and all that. But shepherds actively shepherd the flock. Sheep are not exactly the brightest animals on the planet… and when it comes to following the LORD, well, we’re all sinners who need to be shepherded.
Beyond my wants
So I had this image of myself wandering aimlessly… well, no, not aimlessly exactly: headed in a general direction, but easily distracted. Very easily distracted. Super duper easily distracted.
A sheep might stop for a lovely browse on a yummy bush, or some extra luscious looking grass. Sheep get lost by following those distractions, one leading to another, until they’ve wandered away from the flock off in another direction entirely.
What are my wants, my distractions? The latest novel from my favorite author, when there are other things that need my attention. A videogame, endless games of solitaire, sleep or food even tho I’m not really tired or hungry. That feeling of outrage, of righteous indignation, the rush of “I’m right”, the fascination of scandal. The easy path.
Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants.
Beyond my fears
What do sheep fear? Things that are really dangerous, and things that are not. Wolves and other predators, and scary looking but harmless critters. Paths to safety that look unstable.
How do you get sheep past those things? My first thought involved a sheepdog, snapping at the heels of the sheep to make them more scared of him than they are of the ScaryThing. “Chivvy me, O God”??
(If the Lord is my shepherd, then perhaps the Holy Spirit is his sheepdog. “The part of God that noodges you”, noodging you past things, keeping you going when you want to stop.)
But religion that relies on fear of something worse has never made sense to me, so I started thinking of other ways shepherds coax their sheep past scary things. They stand in front of the scary thing, hiding it, perhaps. They talk to the sheep, keeping its attention on them instead, keeping a hand on it, soothing it, always keeping it moving.
Shepherd me, O God, beyond my fears of failing, of doing it wrong, of not doing enough, of offending, of being talked about, of being ignored, of being abandoned.
Shepherd me, O God,
Beyond my wants,
Beyond my fears,
From death into life.