Monday, 1 December 2014
Psalm 23 Meditation: Mary’s Song
Today’s post was written by Lindsay Hellmers about her own dark valley.
I have a confession to make…Rondi was right. This psalm IS a bone. But when she asked me to write about THE twenty-third psalm, I didn’t picture a juicy, saucy, tender, meaty rib. Instead I pictured one of our dog’s used up, worn out, hollow bones… the one that sits neglected by the door until he is really, painfully, profoundly desperate for something to gnaw on. I mean, I’ll be the first to attest to the power of the Spirit to make ALL of Scripture alive and useful, but how much “meat” could be left on a “bone” that almost everyone can recite? And hasn’t it been just about discussed to death in recent years?
True to his faithful character, the Lord was generous in giving his presence this week as I studied this psalm. And true to the promises in this very passage, he restored my soul through feedings from the lush pasture of the Word and deep draughts from the still waters of his Spirit. What once looked picked clean and hollow to me suddenly grew sinews and flesh, and took on fresh life (Ezekiel 37, anyone? What a mighty God we serve!).
So I began to gnaw slowly on this fresh bone. I read this passage daily, along with ongoing readings in the opening chapters of Luke. There I read the also-very-familiar story of a young girl who finds herself unexpectedly in the middle of redemptive history. As I read about Gabriel’s visit to Mary, I couldn’t help but flashback to the less angelic messenger that heralded my own unwed pregnancy. If you haven’t walked that particular path, take my word for it…. it’s a pretty seriously valley-of-the-shadow-of-death experience. Life as I knew it was behind me. Nothing but the unknown and questions ahead. Add to that the much more conservative culture that Mary lived in coupled with the fact that she hadn’t done anything to put herself into the unwed mother category… and my heart aches to the point of bursting with a sympathetic anxiety.
Mary was a singer, too. And reading both her initial response to Gabriel, and the Magnificat recorded a few verses later, I can’t help but think Psalm 23 might have been a favorite song of hers. Mary saw with clarity the truth of this song: my Shepherd is ALWAYS LEADING ME on paths of righteousness. This truth is so easy to affirm when I like my surroundings! Cool, shady grass and clean, fresh water are geographic features that make it easy for me to endorse his plans. But the Lord is no less present… and no less LEADING… when the path of righteousness is steep, craggy, uneven, and flanked with shadowy boulders behind which predators may lurk. The unloveliness of my assigned path is not a reliable litmus test of a) his presence, b) his love for me, or c) his ability to lead me.
In the heat of the moment, Mary got this. She knew it was true in her very soul. I think she knew, at least in part, because Psalm 23 was a familiar song, a theme song. In her moment of need she was able to see that the valley of the shadow of death was not some scary place where she found herself alone, crying out to the Lord because she had somehow wandered there. No. She was in that valley WITH the Lord, BECAUSE he had led her there. That very crisis was an intentional destination on the path of righteousness, a place for her to feel the Lord’s presence, a time for her to see the table he had set for her in the midst of enemies!
So, sisters, let us join today with the countless voices before us to sing this song. Conflicts with co-workers……. errant children…… imperfect marriages….. whatever the valley we find ourselves in today, by God’s great mercy, let us open our eyes and see these as intentional destinations on our assigned paths of righteousness. Let us choose to gnaw the bone until it runs dry (I promise, it never really will). Let’s keep singing this song until our very souls resonate with its rhythm…. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want…. He leads me….”