The 23rd Psalm, compassionately revisited

As a child I was captivated by the beauty and strength of the images and message of the 23rd Psalm. After the first three verses, however, that feeling was lost. I was repelled by the confrontational aspect of verses four and five. This was not my idea of a desirable existence. Gone were the green pastures and still waters. The stark contrast between the ideas and moods of the first and second halves of the Psalm was jarring and offensive. Now, many years later, that Psalm has come back into my awareness, to be seen in the light of a more modern, more generous interpretation.

The first section below is the version offered by the King James Version of the Bible, a version that has served the Christian religion since 1611. Then, my phrase-by-phrase reinterpretation; and finally, my version by itself.

Psalm 23 (King James Version)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

 

The 23rd Psalm, reinterpreted phrase by phrase 

The Lord is my shepherd;

There is a loving Presence beyond the physical that watches over me;

I shall not want.

I know that I have everything I need.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;

I am guided to go into nature, to be at ease there.

He leadeth me beside the still waters.

I am showed places where I can know stillness, and there I find peace.

He restoreth my soul.

In nature, prayer, and meditation I discover who I am, and I feel whole in body and spirit.

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

I am showed how to act with decency and compassion toward all, knowing that all are one in Creation.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

And even though this physical form must die,

I will fear no evil,

I am not afraid of death,

for thou art with me;

because I know there is a loving Presence that is with me now and will be there beyond my physical death;

thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

signs and symbols show me that there is something wondrous beyond the physical realm.

Thou preparest a table before me

When I open my awareness, I see the mysteries and miracles of creation that I can enjoy and be nourished by

in the presence of mine enemies.

when I feel beset by the problems of the world and my own human fallibility and frailty.

Thou anointest my head with oil;

Unseen powers bless me and give me clarity in my mind and my heart;

my cup runneth over.

I am filled to overflowing with gratitude and joy.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

I understand that I have always been and will always be part of a generous and loving universe;

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

and I know that I will return from here to a place of beauty and love

for ever.

where time has no meaning, a place where I can, if I choose, remain forever.

 

The 23rd Psalm, reinterpreted

There is a loving Presence beyond the physical that watches over me; I know that I have everything I need.

I am guided to go into nature, to be at ease there. I am showed places where I can know stillness, and there I find peace.

In nature, prayer, and meditation I discover who I am, and I feel whole in body and spirit. I am showed how to act with decency and compassion toward all, knowing that all are one in Creation.

And even though this physical form must die, I am not afraid of death, because I know there is a loving Presence that is with me now and will be there beyond my physical death; signs and symbols show me that there is something wondrous beyond this physical realm.

I see the mysteries and miracles of creation that I can enjoy and be nourished by when I feel beset by the problems of the world and my own human fallibility and frailty.

Unseen powers bless me and give me clarity in my mind and my heart; I am filled to overflowing with gratitude and joy.

I understand that I have always been and will always be part of a generous and loving universe; and I know that I will return from here to a place of beauty and love where time has no meaning, a place where I can, if I choose, remain forever.

 

Published April 18 2022

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *