Psalm 80: A thousand words from the English countryside

One of my great pleasures while traveling is to visit both art galleries and markets in hopes of discovering a picture of the area that captures some dimension or moment of my experience in the place. This last trip to England was so full of experiences that I wasn’t sure I would locate or land on just one piece.  I was touring English gardens in the Royal Berkshires, historic gardens in Hampshire and in London, and all along the way, worshiping and visiting a variety of the Church of England’s rural parishes in the countryside and large, urban congregations in London –  St. Paul’s Cathedral, St Martin-in-the-Fields and Holy Trinity at Sloan Square.  Interspersed with the pastorally-focused visits, I spent time in history museums I hadn’t been to in a few years (Victoria & Albert, Tate, the National Portrait Gallery, Kew Gardens, Kensington Palace and Westminster Abbey). Needless to say my dance card was full of experiences, insights, and aha moments that would be hard to reduce to just one picture – worth a thousand words or not.

On one of my last shopping days at Portobello Road market, I found it – or it found me. Seek and ye shall find.  Hanging in a very small, dingy and dark stall amongst a slew of 19th century pictures was this lovely little painting (shown here on my wall).  It was easily overlooked given the maritime theme showing forth from the puzzle-like stall wall. Apparently Fanny, the dealer, had just purchased a lot from a distinguished estate on the English coast. Each quite fine, but none that harkened me to an experience or moment of this particular trip.

The English countryside is a common enough theme for 19th century paintings but on this day it was one of only three in Fanny’s stall.  Yet, no meek bystander was this little picture!  It nearly jumped out to grab me – my attention, at least –  stopping me in my tracks to shout out over the din of the marketplace,

“Look over here – here where the sheep are together, lead by the shepherd, through the gate, on the path, clouds of witnesses overhead and the light of the shepherd and the sky illuming the sheep.  And oh, yea – in case you were thinking this isn’t THE picture for you to take home to memorialize this trip, this gospel story is depicted in the English countryside you have just visited!”

Truly, it was like that.  This little painting spoke to me – whispered, reminded, touched me deeply, delighted my senses and my heart.  

Sheep and shepherds, light and witness are all threads woven into the narrative fabric of the lections this past week. Just yesterday we heard from Jesus, again how God aches for his sheep – those that are without a shepherd, those that are scattered – not entirely lost – but aimless and anxious. And this morning, another reminder in the morning psalm (Psalm 80) that we, God’s church, God’s people, are scattered and aimless without our shepherd, without his light shining down on us, saving us, leading us through the gates, the narrow ones that he opens for us to make way for us on his way,

1 Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock; *
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.

2 In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, *
stir up your strength and come to help us.

3 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

16 Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, *
the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.

17 And so will we never turn away from you; *
give us life, that we may call upon your Name.

18 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

Is your shepherd within sight?  Do you hear his voice?  Is his light illuming your path this day? While my little painting may not have stopped you in your tracks or spoken to you like it did me, I trust God’s Word will harken you to his voice and that today, this day, you find yourself on his path, illumined by the light of his countenance.

Onward, praising God.

Monday Daily Office Readings: AM Psalm 80; PM Psalm 77, [79]
1 Samuel 1:1-20; Acts 1:1-14; Luke 20:9-19

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2 Responses to Psalm 80: A thousand words from the English countryside

  1. jamesjabus says:

    Wonderful! Love the painting, the words, the author.


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