Saturday, September 2, 2017

Only the Twenty-third Psalm

     Because I have low vision due to  retinitis pigmentosa, I often need a little help, especially when I am in dark or unfamiliar places. In those situations  I use an assistance cane or hold on to the arm of my companion.  I keep a white cane in the coat closet at home, where I may grab it quickly if I need to go out at night,  and a collapsing one in my purse for when I travel. I nearly always carry a small flashlight as well. Nonetheless, there are times when I find myself in a difficult spot without my cane, a companion, or a flashlight, and I often suffer the consequences.
     Oh, the repercussions of walking blindly! Recently, during a rehearsal for a Fourth of July event at which I sang, I needed to walk quickly across the back of the stage area in the dark.   Neglecting to use my cane OR a flashlight, I failed to notice a step, caught my foot, and fell forward headlong, banging my knees and wrenching my back. A kind woman sitting in the back row saw me fall, helped me to my feet, and, sure-footed, with soothing words and strong hands,  guided me in the dark down several steps all the way to my seat where I sank back in relief, trembling and aching. I didn't know until after the rehearsal that it was a dear friend whom I know well that had helped me. I could not see her in that dark place.
     Something else that I know well is Psalm 23. As I saw it in my reading selection this morning, I almost  skipped over it, taking such a familiar Psalm for granted. But, I have been wrong in such an action before, and God has surprised me with unexpected joys in familiar places. In today's reading words and phrases grabbed me and begged deeper attention.  The text, as presented in the English Standard Version of the Bible, spurred me to think more about my painful Independence Day event.
     "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters." The literal meaning of this last phrase is "beside waters of rest". 
It brings to mind relaxing on a beach or going to a spa. But, for the present, I think only about the warm, soaking Epsom salt baths that soothe my aching back since I fell. I focus on just the literal meaning of David's words.  This fact reminds me that we are less likely to have deep spiritual insights when we are in the midst of physical pain or need, and I need those "waters of rest."
    "He restores my soul." " Restores"  is an ongoing, present tense, continuous action verb. That means that my soul must need restoring on a regular basis. I'm glad that God doesn't neglect to care for me and that He is ready to restore me every day.
    "He leads me in paths of righteousness (the right paths) for his name's sake." If I will let Him, He will LEAD me in the right path. He will show me the way to go. And, He does it for the sake of His Name--to show that He is Who He says He is.
    Our Lord's character is revealed in his names. His name in this chapter is "Jehovah ROHI", meaning "our shepherd" who tenderly leads us, loves us, and will keep us safe. I am thankful that He leads me even when I don't see where I am going. He leads me even when I don't see  or recognize His face in the dark, just as I did not recognize my friend the night that I fell or realize that she was watching.
    But, He is not only my shepherd; He is also all the other names of God that are revealed in the Bible. Today I  think particularly of "Jehovah Shammah", the "One who is with us everywhere for He is omnipresent" (Ezekiel 48:35) , and "Jehovah Rapha", "the Lord your Physician, the Lord your Healer",  the name God spoke about Himself (Exodus 15:26). (A more extensive list of the names of God and their meanings is found here:
     Another revelation today in Psalm 23 comes from verse 4. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" actually means "Even though I walk through the valley of deep darkness"! I have learned that particular scripture as a help for someone who is facing a severe illness, death, or grief. However, today I find that it applies to my own situation every day. 
     The sentence does not end there. "Even though I walk through the valley of deep darkness, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."  How remarkable it is in our digital age to be able to have a question about the wording of a scripture and then have it answered almost instantly by looking it up on a smart phone or iPad and reading multiple commentaries' insights. By consulting these resources, I find that "rod" and "staff" are not interchangeable. From a shepherd's viewpoint, a rod is more of a club or stick with a rounded knob on the end that serves as an extension of the shepherd's arm and may be used as a weapon or as a symbol of strength and power. The staff might be shaped like a crook or hook and is used to draw or guide a sheep to himself or the other sheep, to lift it up off of a dangerous precipice or out of a tangle of thorns, or to direct it to a better place.
     We, as the sheep that we are, need God to be more than merely present in our valleys of darkness. We necessarily need Him to use His rod AND His staff--the rod to remind us of His power and authority so that we might trust Him, and His staff to guide us, to protect us, to pick us up out of dangerous places, to put us back with other sheep, and to draw us nearer to Himself. 
      I may carry a white cane as a necessary assistance device, but the Lord's tools --His rod and His staff--are much more useful and more powerful. They give me a quiet assurance and confident comfort as I travel "the valleys of deep darkness" on my own journey. I am grateful for his rod and his staff.
      I'm also thankful for the second-cup time God gave me today.  (I have written about the "second cup" in earlier blog entries.) To think that I thought it was "only the 23rd Psalm" in my Bible reading today and almost skimmed it!
      Finally, I am grateful for the hand of my friend Carolyn who reached out and helped me in the darkness when I fell. God is a friend like that. I know it not only because He has said it, but also because He has proven it, both in the light of day and in the darkest hours of my life's journey. He was the One who would never leave me or forsake me after my husband left. He was the peace that passes understanding when my son took his own life. 

     "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV

     "Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. " Micah 7:8 NIV

     In the midst of writing this blog entry six weeks ago, we were rocked by the news that a dear friend of our family had taken his own life. We are still mourning his death and aching for his grieving family members. He had to have been in a "valley of deep darkness" at the time. His passing stilled my hand from publishing this blog post until today. I pray that the 23rd Psalm will be a comfort for his friends and family who remain.

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