Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you
wherever you go.”
The 23rd Psalm is undeniably the most well-known of all the Psalms. Often read at funerals, it is the most commonly memorized and referenced – even in pop culture. It is one of the Psalms attributed to David; written after he had been anointed king but before he was able to take the throne. The current king Saul had disobeyed God, thereby losing the throne. Upon hearing about David’s anointing, Saul became enraged and determined to have him killed. David was forced to spend several years hiding in caves, knowing Saul’s men were constantly on the hunt for him. Safety meant living in complete darkness and complete silence, never daring to peek outside, for fear of possible swords that stood in wait. Day after day, year after year, he lived like this, with no sun on his face and no information about his enemy’s pursuit. It was in that place of spiritual, emotional and physical distress that he reminded himself of God’s presence, slowly adding lines as he was able to memorize them, writing being impossible in the dark.
Having been a shepherd, David knew well the vulnerabilities of sheep who tended to wander and get lost. He also knew their fears and that paths to better places often went through scary woods and streams; the complete ignorance and dependence of sheep paralleling his relationship with God. There is no illusion that this journey will be simple, in fact you will walk through passages that are dangerous and dark, there will be times when death stares you down, its icy breath on your hair. There will be times that are so dark we can’t see God, but who is still there, armed with rod and staff, guiding us, protecting us, nudging us on to being who we were created to be.