Daily Archives: June 21, 2020

Through the Valley of The Shadow: responding to Psalms 22 and 23

led me beside still waters

In my last post, reflecting on psalm 21, a coronation psalm, I mentioned that it stands at the threshold of the special prophetic sequence of psalms 22-24 which speak in turn of Christ’s crucifixion, his leading us through the valley of the shadow death as our good shepherd, and his ascent into heaven as our lord and king. Because of the way these psalms and the poems written in response are linked, I am going to post my responses to psalms 22 and 23 together, so that you can read them as a sequence and also experience the effect of the linked closing and opening lines which make the sequence a ‘corona’.

In these poems I am often drawing on or responding to the language of Coverdale’s translation of the Psalms in The Book of Common Prayer, and you might like to re-read these psalms in that translation alongside the poems

For all Christians reading psalm 22 has a special power and poignancy because it was on the lips of Jesus when he died. As I say in my poem, ‘Christ himself is crying through this psalm’. And psalm 23 is perhaps the nation’s favourite, with its comforting image of the Lord as our shepherd leading us by still waters. People seldom link the two psalms, but the link is essential. The Lord can only be my shepherd and lead me through the valley of the shadow of death if he himself makes that journey with me, and psalm 22 tells me he does just that. Jesus goes to the cross, cries out that psalm, and passes through the gates of death, not only to make my peace with God, but also to be with me and lead me through when I make the same journey.

As always you can hear me read the poems by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right.

XXII Deus, Deus meus

Before he shares with us the golden crown,

He comes to share with us the crown of thorns.

Our hurts and hates close in and hem him round

 

Mock and humiliate him. All the scorns

With which we blaspheme God in one another

Are concentrated here among ‘the horns

 

Of unicorns’, the lions mouths, the slather

Of our devouring wickedness. He takes

It all and turns it into love. He gathers

 

All of us and by atonement makes

Our peace with God. He speaks to us of mercy

Even as we pierce him. No-one slakes

 

His thirst. I tremble at the mystery

For Christ himself is crying through this psalm,

To suffer my own dereliction for me.

 

XXIII Dominus regit me

To suffer my own dereliction for me,

To be my shepherd, and to lead me through

The grave and gate of death, in strength and mercy

 

Christ has come down. At last I’ve found the true

Shepherd and the false just fade away,

Before him. I will sing of how he drew

 

Me from the snares I set myself, how day

Dawned on my darkness, how he brought me forth

Converted me and opened up the way

 

For me, and led me gently on that path,

Led me beside still waters, promised me

That he’d be with me all my days on earth,

 

And when my last day comes, accompany

And comfort me, as evening shadows fall,

And draw me into his eternity.

 

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