By Joanna Lawrence Shenk
This beloved psalm contains so many vivid images. I wonder about the ones that stick out to you, maybe a phrase you noticed in childhood or an image that has become meaningful to you over the years?
I know for me I was confused by the first two lines as a kid. The translation I grew up with was “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” I understood it as God being a shepherd but for some reason I don’t want God as my shepherd. Anyone else with me?
But more seriously, what other phrases hold meaning or memory for you? You’re welcome to just call out a phrase… and those on Zoom are welcome to type into the chat and Sheri can read those aloud.
Given the familiarity that many of us have with this psalm, I want to create space for us to sit with it a bit more deeply this morning. Lately I’ve been drawn to include more meditation practice in my life. So I took the opportunity of creating this sermon to craft a guided meditation based on Psalm 23.
Part of why I find the practice of meditation so helpful, is that meditation encourages me to slow down, to be present, to reconnect with my body and the wisdom that resides there. I also believe that we are in a moment in our world when we need good shepherds, we need compassionate guides, we need trustworthy companions as we navigate the hills and valleys.
When I think about just this last week, my heart is especially troubled by the leaked information from the US Supreme Court regarding Roe v. Wade. In talking about it with Pat and Sheri earlier this week we recognized that as a congregation we have never had a conversation about abortion. We three pastors are not sure of the spectrum of thought and experience in our congregation around this highly politicized and deeply intimate decision.
What I do know to be true is that the reversal of Roe v. Wade would disportionately impact women and people who are already extremely vulnerable. It will deny crucial resources to poor people in crisis situations while having next to no impact on people with enough wealth to travel wherever they need to access resources.
Furthermore, overturning a precedent-setting case like Roe v. Wade also opens the door for other rights to be stripped away, especially for queer people. I feel anger and despair and fear in my body. I imagine I am not alone in this.
Even when our way leads into the valleys and the shadows, I trust the good shepherd is with us. The good shepherd understands the pain we carry. So now I invite us into a guided meditation.
To begin, you are welcome to close your eyes if that feels comfortable. Notice the chair that is supporting your body. Find a relaxing position that allows you to stay alert. Start to notice your breath. You do not need to change your breathing, just notice the breath moving into your body and releasing as you exhale. Stay with the breath for a moment.
The Holy one is my Guide; my life is whole.
I invite you to think of a guide in your life. This could be a person. This could be a creature. This could be a connection you feel to Spirit. Imagine that this guide is sitting with you right now. What does it feel like to have them nearby? What word of love do they have for you? Take a moment to thank this guide for their presence in your life.
I journey over fertile hillsides and rest beside nourishing springs.
Imagine a place outside where you love to go. Maybe it is a park or the ocean or a campsite or your backyard. Imagine yourself in that place. Take a moment to feel in your body what is special about that place for you. How does that place nourish you? Give gratitude to that place for all that it gives to you.
You refresh my soul.
When is a time when your soul has been refreshed? Who were you with? What were you doing… or not doing? Perhaps it was a piece of music beautifully performed? Or a walk with a friend? Or a bike ride? Or time away from the daily grind? Or a good cry that finally was released? Take a moment to consider when your soul has been refreshed.
Even if I’m surrounded by shadows of Death, I fear no danger, for you are with me.
Is there grief you are carrying today? This can be personal grief. It can be greif for the state of the world. Through what valleys and shadows are you walking? Hold yourself gently as you honor the grief. Imagine again that your guide is right there with you, supporting you as you tend to the grief. Breath in that support.
Your power and presence, give me courage.
Become aware of the presence of the Spirit that is within and all around us. Where two or three are gathered, the power of God, of life-force can flow through us. Reflect on a time when you have felt that connection… when you have felt that power and presence. Notice what that courage feels like in your body.
You spread a table for me, in the presence of my enemies.
Imagine this courage coming from the power and presence of the Divine within you, creating a protective boundary around you. It’s a clear, transparent boundary. No one else knows it’s there. Play with your boundary. Imagine it expanding and contracting as you move through the world.
Now imagine yourself sitting down to a most delicious meal. What is on the table? What is making your mouth water? Imagine your guide and your loved ones there with you at the table. Then you see across the room someone who has caused you pain. The presence of this person, or it could be a group of people, cause anger to rise up within you. Let yourself acknowledge the pain and the anger.
Remember that your protective boundary surrounds you and they cannot harm you as you sit at the abundant table. What word of truth do you have for them? Offer that word knowing that you are safe and protected.
You anoint my head with oil—my cup overflows!
Imagine the golden oil in a pitcher above your head. Slowly it begins to pour out and you feel golden warmth covering your head and dripping down onto your shoulders and eventually warming your whole body. You are a blessed child of God. What abundant love is flowing in your life and spilling over to others? Offer gratitude to that source of love.
Only goodness and love will follow us, all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in your house, Loving Spirit, for days without end.
The Good Shepherd welcomes us home. You are home. You are safe. You are loved. What does home feel like in your body?
You are home. You are safe. You are loved.
When you are ready, come back to your breath. Wiggle your fingers and toes. Adjust your body in whatever ways feel good. Open your eyes if they were closed and come back to the room you are in. Come back to this place where you are surrounded by a beloved community. Breathe in the love flowing within and all around us. We are home, together. Amen.