Sunday, March 17
This week’s theme: Still waters
Many of us rarely experience stillness in our lives. Plugged into media devices, surrounded by a cacophony of noises, and ruled by the dictates of our schedules, we often neglect our sabbath needs. We forget that we are created to rest as well as work.
Psalm 23 has transcended the pages of Hebrew Scripture to become a universal piece of literature. Though it is so familiar that many of us can recite it verbatim, it continues to offer new depths of truth. We continue our Lenten journey this week through these cherished verses.
▲ Visio Divina — Guided Meditation
Sitting beside “still waters” can be restorative.
Take a few minutes now to sit and pray with art.
Clear your mind, close your eyes and repeat, “Be still.”
Now open your eyes. What’s the first thing you see?
Stay with that. Don’t let your eyes wander.
Spend a few minutes pondering that part of the picture.
After a few minutes, gaze at the entire picture.
How has God’s stillness centered you?
Close your meditation with a prayer of thanks to God.
Monday, March 18
No more ‘thneeds’
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. — Psalm 23:1
In his beloved children’s book, The Lorax, Dr. Seuss coined the word “thneed.” Thneeds are things we think we need, but really don’t. Things that occupy our hearts and minds but have no lasting value. The Buddha spoke often of these desires as illusory attachments that ultimately cause suffering.
The very basis of our capitalistic society is to stir desire for more, better, faster. Covet this, then buy it, if you really want to feel complete and up to date.
What is it you think you need to such an extent that it clouds the precious moments of your life? The approval of others? An elusive milestone that somehow justifies your existence?
More material objects? The control of a situation or person? The need to be right?
David gets to the heart of these cravings with the very first verse of Psalm 23. When we trust that God is guiding our lives like a divine shepherd, we can let go of our cares. We become mindful of these covetous whims and learn to release them with childlike trust.
Today, O God, help us find our contentment and serenity in you. Amen.
Tuesday, March 19
Our need for wildness
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. — Psalm 23:2–3a
John Muir once said, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”
Sociologists describe our lives as having a “nature deficit.” We spend too much time indoors, plugged into technology, and we pay a pri ce. David says that God compels him to lie down in green pastures and find still waters. In our busy lives, we often miss these promptings, with the stress lodged in our bodies and the fragmentation of our thoughts.
Excursions to remote places are wonderful, but we don’t have to escape to mountains, seashores or green pastures to experience this wild necessity. We can find it in our backyards, a local park or by simply lifting our gaze to the clouds. We can close our eyes and listen to our breathing, that autonomic ebb and flow that is God’s wildness breathing through us. In these mindful moments, we reconnect with creation and surrender to the Divine’s urging.
Good Shepherd, make us mindful of your promptings to lie down and experience your peace. Amen.
Wednesday, March 20
Back on the path
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. — Psalm 23:3
At midnight, under a full moon, I began my ascent of northern California’s Mount Shasta, foolishly ignoring the buddy system of alpine hiking. I felt I could make the difficult climb by myself, reaching the summit and descending before the danger of late-morning thunderstorms.
However, when I reached the camp just below the timber line, shadows from the forest obscured my view of the trail. I lost my way. I was alone at a high elevation with no one to offer directions. A shiver ran up my spine.
Then I remembered a video at the ranger station. “Look for the boulders that lead out of camp.” I scanned the horizon and, sure enough, there they were, like stairs. No, wait . . . like a stairway to heaven, given my momentary panic. I got back on the trail with a grateful heart.
Sometimes, in the fray of life’s challenges, we lose our bearings. We forget the spiritual path laid out for us. Awareness of God’s presence clears a path and leads us back to the Way.
Divine Shepherd, when we go astray, show us your directions to the trail that leads to life abundant. Amen.
Thursday, March 21
Assurance in the shadows
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me. — Psalm 23:4
I love to lead people through a spiritual exercise. “Look back over your life,” I say. “Can you recall a time of hardship that now, in retrospect, is a clear example of God’s protective presence? Can you see how God brought you safely through that dark valley?”
Most people have clear examples of this deliverance. I know that I do, especially in my recovery from alcoholism. However, as the old adage says, hindsight is 20/20. The real genius of a mindful trust in God unfolds right here, right now, no matter our circumstances. David is not saying that someday he will look back and thank God for protection. He gives witness that now, even in the darkest valley, he will not fear. The Divine Shepherd “has his back.”
I call this “decreasing the lag time” when it comes to recognizing God’s good and powerful plan for our lives. It is a potent antidote to fear and anxiety. It gives assurance even in the gloomiest shadows.
Loving God, give us trust that you are here, right now, no matter what is happening in our lives. Amen.
Friday, March 22
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. — Psalm 23:5
A feast amid peril, a rich anointing of oil, a cup that overflows with goodness — what lavish descriptions of God’s love in our lives! As we practice new mindfulness, this awareness of abundance becomes a more regular backdrop to our daily existence.
There is also another way to think of an overflowing cup. It comes to us from Zen Buddhism. Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868–1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
Mindfulness empties us of self-centered preoccupations. It makes room for the overflowing presence of our Creator to fill us with joy and love.
O God, pour out your Presence until we overflow with abundance to others. Amen.
Saturday, March 23
What qualities attend us?
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long. — Psalm 23:6
It is critical to take responsibility for our own happiness and inner peace. These inner states of spirit influence everyone around us. Our moods have ripple effects on our families, workplaces, churches and communities. It is one of the reasons that we seek to connect more gratefully with God’s abundant presence.
This brings us to the beautiful crescendo of Psalm 23. If we trust God to meet every need, if we adhere to the discipline of finding green pastures and still waters, goodness and mercy will follow us. Our lives will shift from high-strung notes of anxiety and incompleteness until we find ourselves in harmony with the hymn of creation.
Don’t we all want to be people who exude such goodness and mercy that we bring blessings to others around us? When this happens, we become ambassadors of abundance, bearers of the good news that God is working to illuminate our lives. May it be so . . ..
Good Shepherd, make us ambassadors of your abundance, beginning this moment. Amen.