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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Filed under imagination

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

  1. Brian Wunder

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

  2. Thank you for this insight. Beautiful work.

  3. Barbara Parry

    Going from dark to light in Psalm 22 to 23 reminds me of The Mariner (and Coleridge), before and after his “light” encounter. A colleague, in preparing for a book club presentation on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, sent me a link to your St. Paul’s Cathedral presentation on Coleridge, thinking I might be interested and asking if I knew you: I sent him back the link to these emails, your spells in the library, and Girton College services (all of which he found “exquisite.” The beauty in the preceding Psalm 21 reminds me of Keats’ Endymion:…Some shape of beauty moves away the pall from our dark spirits…”

  4. Elizabeth Upson


  5. Pingback: Who Shall Ascend? A Response to Psalm 24 | Malcolm Guite

  6. Katie

    “He takes it all and turns it into love.”

    YES & Amen!!!

    and: “I will sing of how He drew me from the snares I set myself. . .”

    Thank you for these meditations/poems brother.


    Your sister in Christ

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