Touch the Earth Lightly, by the Rev. Gary W. Charles
Excerpt: A recurring theme of the book of Psalms is that the cosmos is God’s and that includes the good earth. Psalm 23 celebrates the good green grass, clean water, an environment in which God restores creation and restores us. You will not find a verse in Scripture telling you to oppose the proliferation of nuclear weapons or to be phenomenally cautious about the use of nuclear energy, much less a verse telling to compost or to restrict your carbon footprint. What you will find is the Psalmist celebrating: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1).
What you will find are repeated calls for us to steward God’s creation and for all God’s creatures living within, not to be “agents of death for all creatures that live.”
Reflections on Psalm 23, by John G. Gibbs, PhD
This is one of the psalms of trust. Psalm 11, for instance, expresses trust in God as the maintainer of Justice, for: “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” But wait, for God’s eyes “examine humankind,” God “hates the lover of violence,” but “loves righteous deeds.”
Similarly, Psalm 23 expresses trust in God the protector, whose rod and staff “comfort me” in the presence of “evil.” It is also trust in God the gracious host who “prepares a table before me” and invites me to “dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.”
The first 3 verses set a bucolic scene that is pastoral in every way. The Shepherd, verdant pastures, “waters of rest” [Hebrew]-all these are evoked to communicate both who God is, and what God’s merciful (v. 6) purpose toward the psalmist is. Not even in “the darkest valley” is any individual alone, for “the Lord is my shepherd” who even there finds a way to lead us back to green pastures and waters of rest.
This trust in God brings certainty of sufficiency: “I shall not want.” As a later hymn-writer put it: “I nothing lack if I am His, And He is mine forever.”
A second certainty is security. “I fear no evil; for you are with me.” Realism about evil, and about the darkest valleys in our lives, is acknowledged and overcome by this kind of God and this kind of trust in God. Elie Wiesel, who barely survived Nazi concentration camps, has rightly remarked that we should say about God only what we can affirm when we stand at the upper edge of a pit that is filled with burning babies. There is no security for those who run away from death, violence, and horror. Only those are secure who feel steadied by this Shepherd, no matter how dark may be their valley.
Trust in God, thirdly, makes us steadfast. Desert hospitality afforded refuge within a tent to a fugitive, but only for a short time (two days and their intervening night). God’s hospitality, however, has no limit. It lasts “my whole life long.” That is what we can count on, that is what makes us steadfast. [See John Paterson, The Praises of Israel (Scribner’s, 1950), pp. 113-14; Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, I, pp. 356-57.]
People of this Shepherd Psalm have within them the kind of Shalom (Peace) that, if it is lived out in deeds, prepares them to be safe for “all creatures great and small.” Such People live in harmony with all God’s creation.
Jesus, God the Son, is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18) who loves his flock to the extent of laying down his life for them. Humans are made in God’s image and called to reflect his truth and life. Therefore we are to model the pastoral care of Jesus, not only in human pastoral relationships, but in our care for animals. Such care may include foregoing benefits for ourselves that would involve their suffering.
“Creation is our Home, the Abiding Place of Nurture and Sustenance,” by Dennis Ormseth
Excerpt: As Walter Brueggemann points out, Psalm 23 is “a full statement of a recurrent metaphor for Yahweh.” As shepherd, Yahweh “is the subject of a series of life-giving verbs: lead, restore, be with, prepare, anoint. Yahweh does everything that must be done so that the trusting sheep may live; Yahweh provided what they cannot secure for themselves.” The metaphor of the shepherd, Brueggemann emphasizes, thus ‘holds potential for a rich variety of reflections and affirmations concerning Israel’s proper relation to Yahweh, Yahweh’s inclination toward Israel, and the right ordering of the communal life of Israel (Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy. Minneapolis, Augsburg Fortress, 1997, pp, 260-61). It is therefore significant that the metaphor of the shepherd is also deeply embedded in images of nature, of a predominantly positive and attractive character. The pastures are green, the waters are still, the paths are right. A table is prepared, oil soothes skin parched by the sun, and wine flows liberally. These pastoral images, suggests Arthur Walker-Jones, have shaped reflection in western culture on humanity’s relationship with nature: “The pastoral landscape mediates between wilderness and civilization in art and literature. Moreover, this is an image of God who is present and involved, getting hands dirty in the work of creation.” In our context of concern for creation, the metaphor “could help overcome the separation between humanity and nature “ Walker-Jones suggests, “by focusing on the identification of humans and nature. Nations, like plants, rely on the providential presence of God in creation in order to flourish. Like plants, people and nations are dependent on water, fertile soils, and other natural resources. Human societies are interdependent and interrelated with all of Earth community. The metaphor can speak to God’s involvement in nature and history” (The Green Psalter: Resources for an Ecological Spirituality. Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2009, p. 63).