Today at Mass the responsorial psalm was Psalm 23, probably the best-known Psalm in the world. It seems to me that it is easy for best-known Scriptures to lose their punch from familiarity, if this familiarity comes simply from rote memorization or the "oh yeah, I know this one" check-out procedure upon hearing it. But there's a different kind of familiarity, as of that between lovers. That is when words or images trigger memories of a path walked together, a path where pain and understanding, where anxiety and gentle reassurance have once met. Then, familiar words bring all these experiences that have shaped a relationship, a history, to life all over again.
That was what hit me when I heard those familiar words today: "The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want. He makes me lie down in green pastures... He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake."
The memory triggered for me today was a spot where I sometimes spent my lunch breaks in Milwaukee. Just a few blocks from the office where I worked was the beginning of a city park, where a river was helped along towards Lake Michigan by a concrete embankment. There was a bridge where a road went overhead, and I often climbed down onto the concrete and sat under the bridge to ponder and get away from the noisy office phones I was responsible for answering.
As I look back now, it seems the whole point in my having the job I did at the time was that it gave me an excellent backdrop for my conversion to Catholicism. All the details about that belong to another post, I suppose, but my time there bookended my journey very nicely, predating its advent by several months and ending as I headed out to "missionary life" in Japan as not much more than a neophyte. But I digress.
It was somewhere in the middle of this time, when I was committed to becoming Catholic but still in the process, that I was sitting in my favorite park spot one day with a real worry in my heart. The process of conversion cost me a lot, internally. I was leaving everything I knew; I left a church fellowship where I felt secure for a faceless crowd of Catholics, among whom I had not a single spiritual friend. (Those who had been instrumental in my conversion lived an average of 1,355 miles away.)
The Lord took excellent care of me, though. The immediacy of His presence to me, the evidences He showed me of answered prayer and His special attentiveness to me, I now can see, were extremely abundant. It was one of these moments when I felt I was walking into a desert alone that He brought to my heart and my mind this psalm. Even though it felt ridiculously impossible and 180 degrees away from what I was then experiencing, the Lord gave me this image of walking with Him through deep, verdant, rich pasture, being richly fed with everything I could desire. He challenged me to trust Him.
In the time that has passed since then I've known His promise fulfilled. There have been so many times that I have knelt at Mass and my heart has felt like bursting with gratitude and fullness, not only because of the abundance He gives, but because it reminds me He promised, and He fulfilled.
So when I hear "The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want," I want to tell people "It's true! He is my Shepherd, He has led me, and even though it didn't always feel this way, I now know that He gives freely, richly, and He satisfies. It's true!"