Friday, July 16, 2010

Psalm 23 for a Funeral

A walk "through the valley of the shadow of death" has poetic beauty
that does not resonate with my soul
and I resent being here.
I resist the chasm that is this heartache,
this devastation,
this loss.
I can only assume that the Shepherd's staff supports me
because I haven't fallen face-first
into any pools of still water.
If there are glorious green pastures in the valley
I cannot see them. Death has blinded me.
"Stay with me here, sit with me"
is the only prayer I can muster.
Let the house of the LORD be here
as long as the darkest valley
is my dwelling.
May a stream of oil make a path to find me
until I am healed and renewed
for the journey again.

8 comments:

Naomi said...

Thank you for this lament.

Ronnette Comfort-Butler said...

I so respectfully disagree. All of the wording gives me faith and hope in my soul that has been kicked and punctured. It has become a visual for me that comforts me in levels that I cannot articulate I can only feel. So again thank you for this but I have to say that I find just the opposite.

Anonymous said...

I find comfort in Psalm 23 but at different times it is different parts of the psalm that give me comfort.Thank you for sharing your version.

Rachel Hackenberg said...

Thank you all. I am appreciative of and challenged by your feedback.

I do read Psalm 23 as a great source of comfort, in part simply because its poetry is so familiar ... although at times the shepherd imagery feels distant from my modern suburban life.

My intent here was not to rewrite Psalm 23, but to peel back the layers of its beautiful poetry in order to grapple with the psalmist's experience of the valley -- because surely the author of Psalm 23 lay awake through some dark nights and brushed close to death, and discovered God's comforting presence in the midst of those experiences, before writing these words with such confidence.

Psalm 23 is often read at funerals -- occasions when persons are often experiencing the valley of the shadow of death. And though it's important to affirm God's goodness and comfort on such an occasion, it's also so critical to acknowledge the sadness and even despair surrounding a loved one's death. I think that Psalm 23 allows for both the hope and the heartache -- I was seeking to tease out the latter, precisely because we're so accustomed to hearing the former whenever Psalm 23 is recited.

Thank you again for your comments!

Betsy said...

I, too, find it helpful at times tot wrestle with 'words of comfort' such as the 23rd Psalm. The familiar is comforting for many, but for some it rings false when they are truly in the 'valley of the shadow of death' or Kierkegaard's 'dark night of the soul'. Might I quote your words sometime, of course giving you credit as it is due?

Charlie Worrall said...

As a hospice in-home volunteer, I get close to families in a very vulnerable, and doubt-filled part of their lives. While the poetry of the "standard version" 23rd Psalm is beautiful and familiar, my experience is day-to-day living through severe crises often brings head on, doubts of both our own personal adequacy and the certainty of spiritual belief. Your stripping away the veneer of lyricism from the Psalm reveals the longing for healing that holds up caregivers and wounded alike. Many thanks for showing me a meaningful new perspective on the Psalm. Charlie Worrall

Rachel Hackenberg said...

Thank you, Betsy and Charlie. Betsy, please feel welcome to quote this blog posting! Blessings to you both.

I'm here! Now what? said...

It sure fits after this day of Boston