So I’ve been thinking about the 23rd Psalm a lot lately. I go through periods where it seems to bubble up from my subconscious. I’m not one to know bible passages by heart, but this one I do. Over the past decade or so it has, on various occasions, helped me a great deal.
This psalm—as with most of the bible, or any sacred text for that matter—I take as metaphor. I like to see how it translates to my life in this time in history, not what it may have meant two or three thousand years ago. This said, before I speak directly of this psalm I have to mention my views on who (or what) I think God is. Yup, I said the G-word and with a capital G.
My views are very personal (but aren’t everyone’s?) and may be out on the fringe for some, so if you are a literalist (meaning, you take the bible as the inherent and unfailing word of God) or if you have religious views that lean decidedly to the right, you may want to close this page right now and not read any further. But if you do continue to read on please do not send me hate mail or try to “save me.”
Ok, so I’ll get back to the big G…who, or more specifically what, God is to me? Well, I certainly do not think of Him as an old man with a white beard sitting up on a cloud somewhere looking down. And I’m conscious that I just used the gender-specific “Him” in the previous sentence. I do this out of habit, I suppose, just in the same way I use the word God for what I consider to be the Ultimate Reality. To me—in my heart—the word God is also interchangeable with Spirit, Divine Source, Universe, Indwelling Presence (just to name a few)…the list could go on. I really believe that the concept of God is incomprehensible to our human minds (though not necessarily our hearts) but at the same time It/He/She is all that there is. I believe this Ultimate Reality is in everything and is in fact everything and we are part of It and It is part of us and in some unfathomable way we as humans live and move within this Reality and are connected to each other and everything and everyone is connected to us and everything in It. In short, I believe there is nowhere we can go where this Reality is not.
“Split a piece of wood and I am there. Lift up a stone and you will find me there.”
Gospel of Thomas, saying 77
“For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.”
Bagavad Gita 6:30
And how do I personally know that God exists? I see It/He/She reflected back at me when I look in the eyes of another fellow human. I feel Her when I see a person moved to tears…I know It when I am moved to tears. He is present in my heart when I help another person or if I see another person helping another. The Universe speaks to me when I feel a gentle breeze or rain on my face as I ride my bike, or when, amazingly, plants push through the spring soil after one of the harshest winters I can remember. And I even know this Reality when one of my beautiful dogs looks up at me with unconditional love the way that a canine does. I could go on, but you likely get the picture. Do I feel or know this Presence in my life all of the time? No, of course not. I’m a work in progress (but we all are). And that’s why I need helpers like this psalm to remind me.
And one last thing before I talk directly about the 23rd Psalm…I have to mention the J-word. Yup…Jesus. Because I know that if I’ve kept your attention long enough to read this far then there are at least a couple of you who are wondering what my views are on Jesus. I will only touch briefly on him because I have thoughts in my head about what I’d like to write and it could go on for pages and I don’t want to bore you with it now (but probably will in a later post). And another quick suggestion…if you are a literalist and you made it this far this may really be the time to click another link and get out of this page.
Firstly I would just like to say that while I believe that the Divine Spirit is part of each one of us and that we are part of It in equal measure, no matter what our race, religious background, gender, sexual orientation, etc….there is One Spirit that permeates all things, but at the same time I consider myself a Christian. And by this I mean that I try to follow the teachings of Jesus the Christ as best I can (but usually fail miserably on a daily basis). Do I think he was the only begotten son of God…no. Do I believe he died for our sins…nope. I’m not even convinced he died a physical death on the cross. Then what do I believe, you may be wondering? I believe that he was a divinely-inspired teacher who was trying to tell us how to live and that the life he lived was an example…pure love and compassion. He was truly enlightened in the same way that the Buddha was, and that he was telling us that if we did what he did we too could find heaven in this lifetime. So there it is.
Sorry for the long ramble, here—finally—is how I view this psalm, and what it means to me. To sum it up in just a sentence, this psalm makes me remember what is real and important in life, and that even when things seem hopeless I still am connected to and inseparable from the same Divine Source as you and the next person, and that I have this Source within me to know that deep down everything is just as it should be. The psalm is in bold and my thoughts/interpretations are in italics, and I have to emphasize that these are simply my personal thoughts. I am not trying to force them on anyone. Thank you for reading this far.
The Lord is my shepherd,
(The Divine Presence is all that there is. It dwells within all things including myself, and it guides me.)
I shall not be in want.
(I have everything I need in life, including more food than I can eat, clothing to wear, a house to live in, and the love of family and friends.)
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
(Even though I am often tired and overworked and feel like there is no end in sight it is often an illusion, because I am allowed to take rests whenever I need to…sometimes it’s just a matter of turning inward. And when I do, through prayer, yoga, and meditation, I realize that I am on the shores of quiet waters.)
He refreshes my soul.
(When I am at my most tired and stressed, when things seem hopeless, all I need is to remember the above three things and I can be refreshed. Turning inward and to remember what is really important in life.)
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
(I am guided by intuition, or “gut feeling,” the goodness that each one of us has written on our hearts. All I have to do is listen. And little by little It guides me to become the person that I was meant to be.)
Even though I walk through the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
(Everyone has dark times—and I could write a book here, right?—but knowing that our Divine Source is with me always reminds me that there truly is nothing to fear. This, and the fact that I know I am in some sometimes incompressible or unknowing way being guided, comforts me.)
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
(The table is my life spread out before me—where I truly do have everything I need—and my enemies are internal (fear, selfishness, envy, etc), and these can be overcome.)
You anoint my head with oil;
(Because I, like each one of us, is a welcome guest at this time allotted for me on earth.)
My cup overflows.
(I may not have everything I “want” but I surely have more than I truly need. My cup (life) is literally overflowing with goodness.)
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
(Life really is what you make it. If I offer goodness and love, then goodness and love are returned to me. All I have to do is be open and allow it to happen).
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
(Yes, I am a Christian that believes in reincarnation. Thus, I have been connected to this same Source—and probably you too—in previous incarnations, this current one, and those to come. And I could go on about this, but I won’t)