A cross-stich I made on linen for my grandmother 25 years ago, Psalm 23
I was going to write for the 2nd Sunday of Advent today, but in lieu of what is going on in my personal life, I’d like to focus on a different set of scripture. Instead of Psalm 85, I am going back to number 23.
A sweet Jewish friend of mine says he does not like this Psalm; that it seems to flacid and not “real”. A shepherd with sheep, still waters, green pastures…they all seem a little too “make believe.” I usually agree with him, understanding the problematic after-effects of having unethical and ungodly leaders and realizing that life is not all unicorns and rainbows. But today, I beg to differ. My grandmother passed this morning and this was my her favorite Psalm. Yes, she was from another time, with very different societal and cultural expectations and norms. In some ways, she fit those norms. She stayed with my grandfather who was verbally abusive. She dedicated much of her life to serving him and her family. She was a small-town Midwest girl who grew up to live on a farm and do all the cooking and cleaning. She raised three boys and one girl. We had all holidays at her home and treasured them. Those memories will forever be a part of us. She knew how to create a home and make us all feel loved.
There were the things that were not quite so “normal”. She worked full time, was part of a women’s prayer group that was ecumenical and attended their conferences. She went to conferences for her job as a hairdresser and was always knowledgeable about the latest fashions in her dress and hair. She was a stark contrast to anyone else her age that I knew in those regards. She took me and my girl cousins on trips to Colorado to see my aunt, hike and camp. She loved the woods, the wetlands and the mountains.
But the one thing gramma knew best was how to love. I think that is why she loved this Psalm so much. Aside from the obvious references to the natural world, there is a certain peace in it; the kind of peace you feel when you are truly loved. There is a deep stillness. There is the sensation of intense rest. There is unrelenting trust. There is no fear that cannot be cast out. There is a knowing that all will be provided; that one’s enemies will not prevail; that there will always be grace offered when we are ready to receive it. Gramma knew these things.
As I get older, I see how she loved, not just that she loved. She loved no matter. She loved the ill-behaved child, the person with a different skin color than she had, the person with differing ideas about sexuality and gender, the person with different cultural traditions…and they knew it. We, her family and friends, saw that she loved everyone. She did not judge. She knew it was not hers to judge, but to love. Many people know that. But very few can actually do it. She did it.
Psalm 23 tells us of being led by a loving person; someone who wants us to be comforted and comfortable, finding rest for our weary souls. It tells us of a person who stays with us through the hard and dark times, granting us all that is required so that we feel no fear of demise. It speaks of a person who knows how to nurture us, care for us, and peaceably put up a defense against our enemies.
What else could we want from a friend, a lover, family member, or even a God? Because of my gramma, I know the color and texture of God’s love. I know the intensity and relief of forgiveness and grace. I know the kind of trust that is not blind, but based on lived experience. I know the redemption of the sunrise, the relief of the sunset and that all that happens in between will be well. Maybe not today, but it will be, indeed.
May we all notice the presence of someone like this in our lives. If that person is lacking, then let us be that for others. The example that gramma lived daily is forever in the minds, hearts, and bodies of as many as knew her. Her singing voice, her strong body, her determined spirit and her beautiful smile will be missed, but not forgotten.