Daily Devotional: A Love That Embraces, Saves, and Sets Free to Wholeness

good shepherd 4I continue, as I look at prayers that have carried me and others through trying times, to look at Psalm 23.

Since a lesson I learned in grief was the value of prayers grounded in community and tradition, I draw on the rendering of this prayer in my own tradition, the United Church of Christ, as placed in our Book of Worship.  This Book of Worship includes two versions of this classic Psalm.  The first attempts at inclusive language:

“Holy One,

You are my Shepherd,

I shall not want;

You make me lie down

In green pastures.

You lead me

In paths of righteousness

For your name’s sake.


“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I fear no evil;

For you are with me;

Your rod and your staff

They comfort me.


“You prepare a table

Before me in the presence

Of my enemies;

You anoint my head

With oil, my cup overflows.


“Surely goodness and mercy

Shall follow me all the days of my life;

And I shall dwell in your house forever.”


The second version they provide is more traditional.  I actually prefer the inclusive language version myself, but as I find patients with dementia and other cognitive impairments often are helped by the familiar, I tend to use this more traditional version when praying with patients:

“The Lord is my shepherd,

I shall not want;

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me

Beside still waters;

He restores my soul.

He leads me

In paths of righteousness

For his name’s sake.


“Even though I walk through

The valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil;

For you are with me;

Your rod and your staff,

They comfort me.


“You prepare a table

Before me in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever”.


I mentioned the great intimacy that our Creator Spirit shows for us in this prayer the last time I wrote on this psalm.  This continues to be an important aspect of this prayer.

So often throughout our lives and specifically in times of trial, we can feel not only God but everyone around us is distant.  I know after the loss of my late wife Katharine that I felt that.  It felt like when I could croak the words for prayers that they either hit a ceiling lost in fogmade of iron, or drifted away unheard.  I felt alone and adrift in the world.  And initially even when I was surrounded by loving people, I experienced it as through a fog.   Even after, old fears emerged that if I continued to reach out, to lean on those in my life, I would be abandoned.  They would grow tired of my constant pain and anguish, my fears and uncertainties, and I would wake up alone again, lost in the dark wood of my grief.

Though much of these fears came out of experiences in my life where just such a thing happened – where in the midst of difficult times when I needed friends, my friends I had thought I could lean on couldn’t handle where I was at – I find that in reality experiencing such fears is pretty common in pain.   Even in a crowd, we can feel so alone.  Even with people near at hand, we can feel isolated.  For while they can laugh, smile, go on with their lives, we who are grief-stricken, traumatized, or overwhelmed can only feel the pain and seemingly all-embracing darkness and chill.

No wonder the composer of this Psalm goes out of her or his way to paint a picture of a God intimately involved in us, both in moments of peace and pain!  God is not just distantly looking on, untouched by our suffering.  God rather comes right down there with us, right alongside where we are.  God gets down in the muck and the mud with us.

The Psalm makes me think of a dog I used to have when I lived out in rural North Carolina.  rescued dogThis dog would get a sniff of something in the air and have to run.  We tried to teach him to stay by our side, stay in the yard.   Yet he would go Houdini, sneak under our legs out the door and be gone.  One night he did not come home.  We heard a gunshot.  I was heartbroken.  I searched all over the neighborhood, through the woods and thickets.  Finally I saw him, whimpering and sad, in the fetal position under some boards.  He was terrified, trembling, hiding in fear.  He got into someone’s yard who didn’t like dogs, who shot him right in the tail.  I carried him in my arms like a baby back home.  We took him to the vet and nursed him back to health.

That personal love, personal touch, is the heart of how the Creator Spirit present in all things relates to us.  Like a Mother cannot forget her child, but will go high and low to find tribal_drawing___mother_and_child_by_portraitsbyhand-d5s8kecthat child, will sacrifice time and energy to show it love, so our God is always, ever with us.  Always, ever present surrounding us with love.

As I think about this image, I think of two representatations of this which resonate with me.  One is the image of God as Mother or Sister teacher we see in Proverbs when God is pictured as Lady Wisdom going in search of lost ones.  Some years ago I wrote a poem about this side of God, the Sacred Feminine who goes in search of the wandering ones to bring them home to the path of life, the path of wisdom:


lady wisdom 4Found

Voiceless from the pain

a choked whisper catches in my throat

one word: “Save!”


I have fallen upon gravel road

night dark about me

body aching

knees bloodied


blanketed by frigid shadows


lady wisdom 3Howling voices cry out

“Failure! Liar! Cheat! Scum!”

from eyes aglow dripping crimson

and glistening teeth

hot air on my neck

wind like wolves panting for blood.


My eyes shut, terrified

Muscles stiffen, jaw clenches

body and soul ready for the final blow.


lady wisdomThen a voice, like the fall of rose petals

afloat in spring breezes

whispers melodic in my ears

“Child, you are safe”


A gentle grip lifts me

eyes flickering in shock

glimpses of luminescent limbs holding me tight

relax my rigid frame.

I know no more.


My eyes open in my father’s house

safe and secure,

the rosy fingers of morning caressing me awake

the din of night now long forgotten.


Looking down, I am bandaged,

still broken but healing.

Safe by her caring hands.


lady wisdom 2“Sister Spirit, who are you?”

I cry, as tears of joy drip

thick as summer storm.

Over the tumult of my cries

a sound like silence echoes

those gilded halls,

and in the whispering winter winds

I could almost swear I hear a name:



Yet this intimacy of love for us is not desiring us to remain the hopeless child, in need of constant care and rescue.   Rather like a mother does what she must to teach her child how to stand on its own, how to thrive in this world, hoping to see it succeed, so the goal of Good Shepherd for us is that by use of the intimate care of the rod and staff to help us learn how to be faithful to our path, so that we know how to walk faithfully as life leads us forward, without endless wandering.


To me this is what the imagery in the end of the Psalm picturing us arriving at the table of the Lord, in the home of God, with a steady and secure place to stand.  This security is borne from our learning the lesson of such deep love, the lesson.  It is becoming full-grown in God, mature and whole.


I close with the following song, which invites us into this intimacy of care by our Creator which our Psalm describes:



Wandering the road of desperate life
Aimlessly beneath the barren sky
Leave it to me
I’ll lead you home

So afraid that you will not be found
It won’t be long before your sun goes down
Just leave it to me
I’ll lead you home

Hear me calling
Hear me calling
Just leave it to me- I’ll lead you home

A troubled mind and a doubter’s heart
You wonder how you ever got this far
Leave it to me
I’ll lead you home

Vultures of darkness ate the crumbs you left
You got no way to retrace your steps
Just leave it to me
I’ll lead you home

Hear me calling
Hear me calling
You’re lost and alone
Leave it to me
I’ll lead you home

So let it go and turn it over to
The one who chose to give his life for you
Leave it to me
I’ll lead you home

Leave it to me
I’ll lead you home


One thought on “Daily Devotional: A Love That Embraces, Saves, and Sets Free to Wholeness

  1. I would like to share a story about a dog who enter my and my five brothers life when we were erkids. It was a beautiful black and white male collie. He show up dirty and hungry. We clean him up, feed him, and love him. We call him “Boy” and would answer to it. well, low and behold there was a picture and story about him being missing. The article stated His’ name was “king”. The owner live near us. Daddy and Mommy told us to call him by rightful name. He wouldn’t respond to that nam man.e. So, Daddy walk with us with the dog to the man house who stated it wa he needed our loves his’ dog and Daddy told us we had to give the dog to the man. The dog show up two more time. The time he show up Daddy told him that if dog show up the next time, in the same condition he would not put us through broke hearts and tears over the dog. He did show up one more time and stay for awhile then left on his’ own. The strangest thing was he never would answer to King, it was always Boy. It was like he needed our love and we needed his. I am sure that he is in heaven now. but I think of him often.

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