Psalm 23, one of the psalms set for this evening, is probably the most known passages of scripture. It is known across religions, and has often made its way into popular culture. It is almost always prayed together at a funeral. It’s words, with the Lord’s Prayer, are often found on the lips of those who, in their last days, have lost the ability to form coherent thoughts. It is ingrained into our culture.
From a very early age, I remember questioning why people found this psalm so comforting. What was it, my young mind questioned, about these passages of scripture that this psalm provided those in times of grief. I honestly held that question until last year I heard Bobby McFerrin’s setting of Psalm 23, Psalm 23, Dedicated to my Mother, that I got it.
Perhaps it is because I hadn’t experienced much grief when these questions first arose, or maybe it was because it was so familiar that I could actually hear the words of the psalm. When I first hear McFerrin’s setting I was caught off-guard. I was caught off guard by hearing this psalm sung in this way, I was caught off-guard by its beauty, I was caught off-guard by the feminine language used for God in this psalm.
It was like a balm for my weary, ragged soul. God can nurture us in our darkest moments like a mother would comfort their child. This is not to say that father’s can’t provide nurturing, but in my childhood experience, it was my mother who was the comforter. I am brought to tears every single time I hear this version, and part of these tears are motivated by the fact that I went more than 30 years hearing this psalm but never feeling it.
Psalm 23 is a psalm that assures us that God is not only present in the good moments. God is always present, and is always there to lead us to still waters.
The setting of this hymn was sung at my ordination, as Psalm 23 is the psalm set for the Confession of St. Peter, the feast day on which I was ordained; so this hymn will forever hold a special kind of sacred significance for me. It is beautiful to me that the response to the Old Testament read on the day I was charged with Holy Orders is the psalm that I will lead grieving families through throughout my priesthood.
It is a reminder that not only is God present with us in difficult times, so also are we present to those who we are privileged enough to love and to be in relationship.