The title from today’s post comes from Stanton Lanier’s album, Open Spaces. The track, “Wherever You Go” accompanied my prayer time this morning. You may listen, here:
A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;*
3 he restores my soul.*
He leads me in right paths*
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,*
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely* goodness and mercy* shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.*
I prayed the first psalm of the Daily Office Lectionary very slowly this morning somehow sensing that on this day – a day that marks the bidding adieu to the family home as my parents move from one valley to another – on this day the Holy Spirit might send some touch.
But I didn’t begin to pray the psalm with my parents or their move in mind. I was lead there.
I pictured myself as one of the sheep. I was moved to experience as fully as possible the healing comfort, the assuring knowing of being in the arms, the presence, the space and place of God. Psalm 23 is, after all, one of the most recited of all scriptures proclaiming a certainty to the mind and comforting the heart to the steadfast but suffering sheep. It is a landscape psalm in many ways that speaks to an anxious, restless soul suffering from the uncertainty of home – of where home, is. There is present a wisdom and a calm that speaks to God’s people through the ages. Through time.
I glanced up at my shepherd. I see his back. His staff. The herd is following but not blindly. We – I – have to look up to see where he is, where he is leading us – me. Seeing him there, I ease into the trek through the valley and through the psalm.
The landscape comes on my radar screen as I look back down to the ground. A dusty road, in a valley, the foreign geography of our ancestors. The Holy Land – we are trekking through a sacred space. Unfamiliar in terms of literal experience – I’ve never been to the Holy Land. But as the Lord leads me through the psalm, a sort of warmth – healing? – comes down upon me. It matters not, the landscape. The geography. The house. The home. As long as I see before me his rod and staff, all is well.
I’m reminded of how important it has been for me to look up from whatever land or ground or home I have found myself in over the past few years – to locate myself – to get my bearings. To check in. Look up to Him while trekking to see if I am still part of the herd – to be assured that I haven’t wandered off onto some strange road trusting myself and my natural instincts instead of trusting my shepherd, my Lord.
And as I moved through the psalm with my Lord in front leading me through valley, the visual in my head suddenly shifts from the arid, foreign landscape of Jesus’ time to my home – my family home.
And to a recent and very specific moment. I am sitting at the kitchen table with my mother and father on a Sunday afternoon. We’ve been working hard all day, packing boxes, cleaning out the attic, sorting through the garage. It has been a trying day at this house my parents made a home. Uncertainty and anxiousness about the move they are making hangs in the air, irritates our exchanges, tests our patience with one another. For all the right practical and provisional reasons they are closing up shop in this place, but struggling to see how any place but here in this place – this home – could ever be anything more than a house. Foreign landscape, geography is where they are headed.
A priest from my parent’s worship community had stopped by to pick up a car and a truck full of household items they were donating. Not until I had loaded up his truck did I learn he had brought my father communion.
Since his surgery a few months ago my father has been unable to attend worship services and though he has had many pastoral and healing visits from the clergy of his parish, communion had not been brought to him at home.
So, we move from the driveway into the house, to the kitchen table, bringing with us some anxiousness. My father was exhausted. My mother worried about his fatigue. And I am concerned about all the logistics of the move and how much there is left to do and how sad – angry even – I am that this home will be no longer the refuge, safe place, and familiar landscape it has been for so much of my life.
We all bring to this moment at the kitchen table a pause – a sort of glance upward. For them to get their bearings. To check in. Look up to Him amidst this moving day trek to see if they are still part of the herd. Have they wandered off onto some strange road trusting the practical and provisional instincts to downsize, to move? Are they moving forward by His hand, staff, rod?
As the Lord leads me through the psalm, it is this moment at the table that I recall as I arrive at the last verses. There I am looking across the kitchen table at my beloved father. I glance my beloved mother at the other end.
You prepare a table for me
Together we begin the liturgy, known in The Episcopal Church as “Communion under Special Circumstances,” (BCP, 396-399). The priest opens our worship with this passage from John 15:
Jesus said, Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
My parents have born much fruit. They have abided in Him. Their lives together have glorified the Lord, God.
I wept as I witnessed my dear father receiving communion, “Dick, take and eat this in remembrance of Him…” And I smiled through my tears as I saw my dear mother looking at him so lovingly, her anxious face dissipated.
Abiding in Him as they have done – glancing up at the shepherd, pausing to get their bearings, they knew – felt – God’s goodness and mercy in the moment.
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
And there was a grace-filled moment that came to me. The house of the Lord is not a house – it is not this house that we have all known to be home.
The geography, landscape, ground, path is not what sheep think about. The sheep are safe and known and loved no matter what valley they are in. The sheep are home wherever their shepherd leads them. The sheep don’t make their pasture ‘home.’ The Lord leads them to the green pasture. The Lord makes the pasture, home.
Dwelling in the Lord, any house will be a home.
And so it will be for mom and dad.