May 2017 Oblate Reflections and Lectio Divina

Topic:  Psalm 23, God is Our Shepherd and Guide

Psalm 23 is the most commonly known Psalm—simple, familiar and full of richness. In lectio divina we ask, “What does this Psalm mean for me?”  We dwell in the words to make personal the promises of God to the people of Israel–promises of renewal, healing, peace, protection, encouragement, and guidance.

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

After reading through the text together and then quietly, we share the words and phrases that come to mind. These words should ultimately lead to personal prayer.

Psalm 23 lectio

Oblates share the words that have settled on their hearts, continuing to listen deeply to what God is saying.

“I remind myself every morning that no matter what the day may bring, I gather strength from God. If I forget this, then other thoughts come into my mind and the day doesn’t go very well.”

“I realize that I lack nothing.  When I pray the “Our Father”, I am praying for my daily bread, not for yesterday or for tomorrow or when I retire, but for my daily bread.  When I realize I lack for nothing in this present moment, my cup overflows. Even when it’s cold, rainy, dreary, or my coworkers are a pain, my cup still overflows. I need to remember the gifts rather than the stuff going on around me.”

psalm 23b

“It can be comforting to substitute the name of a loved one who has died when reading Psalm 23. The Lord is John’s shepherd, He shall not want. He makes John lie down in green pastures; he leads him beside still waters; he restores his soul.

“In grief and hard times, we can believe that our happiness will return soon and our spirit will be renewed. If you substitute happiness for spirit, the Psalm can read as prayer and affirmation. Lord, renew my spirit.”

Psalm 23

The Lord is MY shepherd is an intimate prayer between God and me.  You cannot separate the Psalm from the whole history of salvation, but, finally, the Psalm needs to mean something for me. In Israel everyone knew what the Psalmist was talking about—the sheep needed guidance, protection, and leadership. We hear this Psalm over and over, especially at funerals, and it seems the green pasture is something that happens after death; it’s only in the afterlife. But this Psalm is for the living!! The green grass is where we can sit down and rest. Whatever difficulties we are going through, the image of the green pasture can bring us peace.  A pasture in the dessert is a healthy image; it means there is water.  There is life when there is food and water; God spreads a table before me.”

“Water is a symbol of baptism, of being in the life of Christ. Just as the desert becomes a meadow with streaming water, we receive nourishment in the dryness of our lives. Christ brings us into this nourishment through the body and blood of Christ. The shepherd becomes the host, spreading the table before us.”

“God cares for me in the midst of people who do not care. A table is spread before me in the presence of my foes.”

psalm 23a

“This Psalm is about intimacy and relationship, the shepherd and the sheep. We should know and listen to his voice. What return am I making to this good shepherd in my life? Do I hear HIS voice? Just as cattle become familiar with the farmer’s voice over time, we need prayer to become used to God’s voice. Each and every day the shepherd is there in the dark valley, in the moments of death. He comes as host, filling us with plenty and desiring health, happiness, and safety for each of us. He brings us into intimate unity. The Psalm acknowledges that even while I am walking in the shadow of death, I lack nothing even though I am in the midst of darkness. God is giving me strength no matter what.”

Who could imagine a Psalm this familiar could bring new thoughts, new insi­­­­­ghts, and fresh ideas? God never stops speaking to us in new ways with ancient words. The images and words in the Bible bring us back to what God has provided for us in the history of salvation and through life, death and resurrection of Christ. We are in a relationship with God, who is our host, guide, nourisher, provider, life giver, healer, loyal companion, and encourager.

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It is the privilege as Oblates of St. Benedict to participate in the Monastic Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours, the Opus Dei or the Divine Office, consists of Psalms, Canticles, and Spiritual Reading.  The Psalms give our day a rhythm without denying the life we are living. In prayer, we become aware that it’s not an act of self, but it is Christ praying through us. We are the prayers for the world when we pray the Psalms. Our Oblates pray the Divine Office and other prayers using a variety of resources:

  • Benedict Daily Prayer Book, A Short Breviary
  • Pray As You Go iPhone ap
  • Divine Office iPhone ap, DivineOffice.org
  • Give Us This Day, Liturgical Press
  • Christian Prayer, The Liturgy of the Hours
  • Shorter Christian Prayer

Refer also to the Rule of St. Benedict Chapter 8, 12 and 20.

Additional Resource: Study Guide for the Rule of St. Benedict with Reflections for Oblates and All Who Seek God, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB,  Part Four: Monastic Prayer, pages 81-100

Oblate Leader: Fr. Volker Futter          Written by; Jodi Gehr

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