Praying with Psalm 23

 [Download this document, with visual reflections, here.]

                    Not want

          The Lord is my shepherd;
          I shall not want.
                    —Psalm 23.1

Lead me, shepherd,
through the cluttered junkyard of my desires,
through the noisy bazaar of all the stuff I think I need,
to the quiet meadow of your love,
where I have everything I need.

Breath prayer:
                              Enough … at peace.

                              Green pastures

          You make me lie down in green pastures.
                    —Psalm 23.2

God, I am trying so hard—
to keep up, to maintain,
to produce, to perform.
Give me energy; and give me rest.
For there is no need,
no such thing as good enough,
there is only my belovedness.
You are my resting place.
Lead me aside from the hustle,
to a quiet place in you
to find my rest.

Breath prayer:
                              Rest … in you


          You restore my soul.
                    —Psalm 23.3

O Love,
sometimes I am under pressure,
sometimes I am in grief,
and my heart falters,
my breath goes shallow.
Revive me.
Be my heartbeat,
be my breath
and restore me deep within.
I breathe you, deep and easy.

Breath prayer:
                              Breathing … God

                              Good path

          You lead me in good paths for your name’s sake.
                    —Psalm 23.3

Lead me, gentle one.
Lead me in a way of grace and forgiveness,
a path of beauty and kindness.
Lead me toward justice and mercy.
May each step be a step of love and courage.
Give me clarity to discern your way for me,
and faith to follow it,
one step at a time.

Breath prayer:
                              Love … lead me

                              Dark valley

          Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
          I fear no evil; for you are with me;
          your rod and your staff— they comfort me.

                    —Psalm 23.4

The way to love and light
leads through pain and loss,
and the darkness of not seeing.
And you, my Love, my Faithful One,
you go there with me.
Through the unknowing,
through the powerlessness,
through the grief,
there you are,
until we reach
another green meadow. Thank you.
Lead me.

Breath prayer:
                    Unseen … presence


          You prepare a table before me
          in the presence of my enemies.

                    —Psalm 23.5

O Holy Mystery,
in the face of all I fear
you spread a feast
of sustenance and beauty.
Though I flee from hurtful conflicts
sometimes you invite me to your table
where I share with my enemies
and we are reconciled.
For provision and safety,
for abundance overflowing, I thank you.

Breath prayer:
                              Despite all … abundance


          Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
          all the days of my life,
          and I shall dwell in the house of the Beloved
          my whole life long.
                              —Psalm 23.6

Ah, Beloved, wherever I am,
I am at home in you.
Every moment I am in your presence,
surrounded by your goodness.
Your gentle mercy shadows me,
clings to me, belongs to me.
Unseen, unfelt, your spirit hovers.
Your grace enfolds me.
Your mystery breathes in me.
Your love abides.
I thank you.
I give myself to you.

Breath prayer:
                              At home … in you


Some people need a good talking to.
But almost everybody needs a good listening to.
Being reflected changes light. Being heard changes people.

Let their speaking be all there is.
Silence your own noise so you can really hear them.
Pocket your thoughts. Table your advice.

Listen like the earth listens to the rain.
Dry earth doesn’t take in the rain very well.
Practice listening so you can hear.

Listen like the violin listens to the string.
Listen deeply: to their soul, their silences.
Listen like God listens to your prayers.

In the clear space of being heard
people may hear themselves for the first time,
hear echoes of the divine between the words.

Someone who hears you hearing them
can believe God has heard them as well.
Listen for God’s listening in people.

Like midwives
we can listen each other into wholeness,
listen people to life.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Listen to the audio recording:

Blind, seeing

           Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment
           so that those who do not see may see,
           and those who do see may become blind.”
                           —John 9.39

You can see with the eyes of your culture,
see brands and trends, insiders and out,
worthiness and unworthiness.
But you can choose to see well enough,
one hopes, to become blind to that.

You can see with your eyes,
see the torn jacket, the hesitation in the eyes,
and not really see them.

You can be blind and see with your mind,
see the gleam of their gifts,
the gaping hole of their needs,
see the rise and fall of their voice.

You can be blind and see with your soul,
see the glory hidden, the pain buried,
the child of God.

Open the eyes of the heart—
close your eyes, if you have to—
and see.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
Listen to the audio recording:

Go through the door

           Jesus opened the eyes of the man born blind,
           but they said to the man, “You were born entirely in sins,
           and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

                           —John 9.34

There is something in you that wants to change
that the world doesn’t want for you.
A seed swelling, a wound re-weaving,
something that stirs to be free,
something young and tender that wants to grow.
The world would rather you stay stuck,
stay unwhole, stay hurting.
They write in your yearbook, “Don’t ever change.”
Your old drinking buddies don’t want you sober.
“Stay here. Don’t leave us.”
Friend, go through the door.
Don’t listen to those anxious voices,
even the ones inside your own head.
They only want you to protect their fear
that they too might be transformed.
Listen: the Love at the heart of the world
wants your wholeness.
The seed will sprout.
Let yourself be changed.
Stand by your newness even when neighbors
don’t like it or don’t recognize you.
The rock of yourself stands firm
in the river of people’s wishes.
The Beloved desires someone
other than who the world sees
to marry.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
Listen to the audio recording:

Psalm 23: a meditation

[Here are nine paraphrases and versions of Psalm 23.]

Love, you shepherd me;
            generously, you place my life in my hands.

You rest me in the meadow of your presence,
            I drink from the gentle brook of your peace.

You are my next breath, and the next.
            You are my path, my steps.

The way to life leads through death;
            you go there, and I willingly follow you,

your presence beside me,
            your wisdom before me.

Despite my fears and doubts this life is a feast.
            You embrace me with such love,
            feed me with such delight.

Your goodness and mercy shadow me;
         and with every breath
         I am returned again and again to you.

Listen to the audio recording:

Lenten discipline: Allowing

           The neighbors and those who had seen him
           before as a beggar began to ask,
           “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”
           Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying,
           “No, but it is someone like him.”
           He kept saying, “I am the man.”

                           —John 9.8-9

John tells a long story full of irony and comedy,
almost slapstick in places:
Jesus heals a man born blind and everybody has a fit.
Pharisees don’t think it’s a good idea,
his parents don’t think it’s safe to say it’s true,
friends don’t think it’s him,
and detractors don’t think it’s possible.
Everybody’s trying to make it something else.
Nobody but Jesus and the healed man seem ready
to just let what is be what is.
The story suggests a Lenten discipline of allowing.
Allow yourself to be healed.
Allow someone else to be healed.
Let someone you look down on be healed.
Allow people to change. Or not.
Let people freak out without joining them.
Let someone criticize you without stopping them.
After all, God allows.
God did not command light, God allowed it:
Let there be light.”
Only when there is ample room for what is
is there room for what may yet be.
Loosen your grip.
Stop trying to make things be what you want.
Let there be great letting in your life.
Let God have their way with you.
Let it be.

Listen to the audio recording:


Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light


           “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,
           but those who drink of the water that I will give them
           will never be thirsty. The water that I will give
           will become in you a spring of water gushing up with eternal life.”
                           —John 4.13-14

I bustle through this world
at the urge of my wanting.
I rummage through my life
under quiet compulsion,
a longing so easily ignored
or twisted into a thousand quests,
the impulse to reach for that thing,
to have, to feel—oh, sometimes
to have or feel anything at all.
A pig, sometimes, wedging my snout
under every promising bit of sod.
We all bump into each other,
hunting, a little desperate. Thirsty.
But be still. Feel its tide.
The pull to root.
A root seeking deeper, deeper.
A panther, beautiful in its quietness,
crouching for water.
A great river of emptiness
seeking its sea.
The nothing that doesn’t want
to be replaced but met.
The hollow you have cupped out
for yourself in me. This thirst,
this scary part of me, is most alive,
most faithfully pointed toward life
—most easily bent otherwise—
but faithful to endure, to lure me
to quit all other reaching,
to keep leaning toward you,
to keep kneeling and tasting
this gift, this partaking, this living,
this, here, now: you,
in this breath,

Listen to the audio recording:


Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Strike the rock

           Strike the rock,
           and water will come out of it,
           so that the people may drink.

                           —Exodus 17.6

life will be demanded of you that you don’t have.
Miracles will be asked of you that you can’t do.
Faith will be expected of you that you can’t always maintain.
Hope will be needed, hope you may not have.
This happens to leaders, happens to parents, to friends.
Sometimes it happens with your own life.
Sometimes you will have nothing to offer.
You won’t know what to do, or how to do it.
You have no idea how to strike the rock.

Strike the rock anyway.
The power is not in your power,
not in your strength or skill.
The unseen awaits in the sanctuary,
in the holy empty space of your unknowing,
where you have left room for the Mystery,
in the shimmering vacancy of your willingness.
Strike the rock.
And have a bucket ready.

Listen to the audio recording:

Strike the rock

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

The woman’s testimony

           Many Samaritans from that city believed in him
           because of the woman’s testimony.

                           —John 3.39

On International Women’s Day
I give thanks for all those women, God,
who have borne witness to your grace,
like the Samaritan woman—
the first Christian evangelist!—
women who have been slighted, ignored,
silenced, disappeared, ghosted, betrayed,
yet who have borne witness.
Priests and healers, prophets and leaders,
they have embodied your love.
In their courage, outspoken or quiet,
in their tenacity, their wisdom and their love
your grace has shone.
In their work for mercy and justice
your Word has resounded.
We have belittled them, silenced them.
And still they persevere.
May we honor those women,
listen to the voices of women,
and in their company bear witness faithfully.

Listen to the audio recording:

The woman’s testimony

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Lenten discipline: Listening

           Many Samaritans from that city
           believed in him because of the woman’s testimony,
           “He told me everything I have ever done.”

                           —John 4.39

I don’t think Jesus was omniscient, that he knew
everything about the woman before meeting her.
I think he was just a really good listener.
He listened to people’s hearts, to the unspoken.
He asked questions and let them answer.
May my Lenten discipline be listening.

God help me to listen, to listen like Jesus,
to listen as the sea listens to rivers,
to set aside all I think, all I want to say,
and offer the sacred empty space of listening,
the silence of deep listening.
When I am distracted help me be attentive.
When I am afraid help me be curious.
When I am angry help me be compassionate.
When I am right help me be humble.
When I am in silence help me listen for you.
When I am with others help me listen for you.
May my repentance be listening, my praise be listening,
my prayer be listening.
Even now, Love, I am listening.

Listen to the audio recording:

Lenten discipline: Listening

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

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