"I shall not want."
I skip over those four words.
Now, I know the 23rd Psalm by heart, but I skip over these words every time. If you say "23rd Psalm," my mind jumps right into green pastures, right down beside those still waters. I know these words-this is one of the few passages of scripture that I know by heart.
I know the words, but I forget the math.
I forget that the psalmist put an equation in the opening line: "the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." That comma in the middle could be an equal sign, as the line declares that because "the Lord is my shepherd," I have enough. The presence of the shepherd means that I have enough. The Lord is my shepherd=I shall not want.
So for this coming Sunday, which some churches call "Good Shepherd Sunday" because the lectionary serves up the 23rd psalm each year, my attention is shifting from the metaphors to the math.
I am led to the math because of a few lines I read in the refreshing and clear commentary on this psalm by Catherine Kelsey, in Feasting on the Word (WJK, 2009). "I shall not want" is a challenge, she writes, to "all of the advertising that is designed to create a felt need that a particular product can satisfy."
Ah-hah. This psalm is about satisfaction. Enough. Abundance. That's where math comes in. This psalm contradicts our culture of scarcity, where we are never enough and we are always afraid. The psalmist's opening salvo reminds us that we already have it all, because of the One who has us all.
This is a revolution in four words: "I shall not want" means "I can trust." It's an act of resistance, powerful resistance to the voices of come-buy-more to say "I shall not want" I have enough.
Psalm 23 asks us to go deep inside to find the courage to say "I can trust," and it also asks us to go public, to consider how we live as members of the human family. Kelsey suggests the psalm has a public nature, and that we can explore that by a change in pronoun: re-imagine the first person as not an individual, but rather as the planet Earth.
If Earth claims the shepherd, what would enough look like? How might Earth experience abundance, or scarcity?
That enables us to move back to ourselves as earth-dwellers? How then shall we live on this earth, this fragile planet? How much do we need to sustain our lives, and the life of the planet? How much is enough? A preacher could ask some questions about the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline with this psalm, in keeping with April observations of Earth Day, and the reality of global warming.
Psalm 23 has been a source of comfort to generations of faithful people, words whispered bedside in hospital rooms and words prayed through long lonely nights. But now I am seeing a new way to pray this psalm.
This is a protest song, packed with words of power that are the real rockbottom sources of that comfort. These words are prayer words, to be sure, but they are words to pray standing up, and standing against, the powers that would keep us afraid and keep us grasping for more. These are the words that empower us to say, "enough."
Echoes from the Edge
By Rahiel Tesfamariam, 2012-13 Beatitudes Fellow - April 15th, 2013
from her post at Urban Cusp
A decade ago - I said these words to myself: "The hardest thing I've ever tried to be in life is a Christian woman."
I still feel that way. Being a Christian woman is the most difficult path I've ever walked in life because religion magnifies every challenge women face in society. It is absolutely difficult to reconcile cultural demands with the biblical imperatives for holiness. Where does our sexuality fit into that? How do we reconcile our ambition and hunger for success with Christian conceptions of womanhood? "Help meet" has never rolled off my tongue.
But would God have given me this powerful voice, this brain and opened management doors if God didn't intend for me to lead and be powerful? I'm over trying to hide in the shadows of men in order to present a type of womanhood that doesn't appear threatening. Being coy ain't me. Culturally, men get away with everything under the sun because they wrote the rules to the game and told us who we had to be in order to win. Emilie Townes once told us at Yale: "you have to know the rules before you can break them." I know the social codes that govern and break 'em.
It seems paradoxical to speak of Christ as liberating, as a black woman, but it's the one that has given me absolute clarity about my worth. It breaks my heart that love and sex, the most beautiful, life-giving and powerful forces in the world, are so often used to subjugate us. For men, it is often their hate of others that destroys them. For us, it is often our love. We often become martyrs for love. Dying to love. As women, how do we love in such a way that is empowering? Uplifting to us and everything around us? Rather than it being self-destructive? Sistas are dying to love. Wasting away in health clinics because of "love." Tearing apart their wombs and being depressed because of love. I'm not blaming sistas at all. I blame the world we've created for them to live in. The world that tells them their worth is tied to a man.
The Bible speaks to me in ways that no other material thing can. But its dealings with women and human sexuality are treacherous. Yes, I said it. Story after story about rape, incest and female brutality. Women being used as sex slaves and sharing their lovers with countless others. The absolute invisibility/silence of women in the Bible sans a few sheroes like Esther and Deborah. It's like the erasure of blacks in history. The Bible's telling of women as insignificant vessels of male pleasure is absolutely contrary to my personal relationship and walk with God.
I became a Christian at 21. Quickly turned to the Bible to learn of God's love for me. Instead found countless stories of male domination. I marked my Old Testament up with a pen, asking how God could allow such things to happen, especially to women. Tamar, Hagar, etc. broke my heart. Old Testament made me feel as if I had no place as a woman and person of color in God's grand story. But I loved Hagar's one on one encounter. Hagar's story gave me hope. That life could send us in exile after being used up, betrayed and isolated. But in God - we could be seen.
When folks speak of disdain for Christianity, they don't speak of Christ. They were likely hurt by parts of the Bible, church and Christians. Not saying the Bible is void of female empowerment/ sheroes but it is by no means fully reflective of the love and inclusion Christ displayed. Male domination of the pulpit is one of the greatest barriers between women and their relationships with God. Men continue to mediate our faith. It is tragic to have our understandings about God, love, family, careers, sex, health, beauty, ethics, etc. so often explained/taught by men. Carter G. Woodson said that controlling a person's mind is the gateway to controlling their behavior. Men control millions of women from the pulpit. Sistas, if you love the Word and feel the calling on your life to minister, please heed that call! A generation of girls and boys await you.
Finally, the Poet
By Wendell Berry - April 15th, 2013Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.
With the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.
Through stalled air, unshadowed
light, a few leaves fall
of their own weight.
is gray. It begins in mist
almost at the ground
and rises forever. The trees
rise in silence almost
natural, but not quite,
almost eternal, but
What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be. Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest, even
to the slightest of His works,
a yellow leaf slowly
falling, and is pleased.