Many of us rallied through the sudden changes brought by COVID 19 with equal doses of information and humor this past week. I personally, have read more news this week than at any other time in my life – I’m even checking local news several times a day.
As we roll into Sunday, our minds are distracted and full and many of us may struggle as we turn to new church routines – with our hearts and minds so weary and full, how can we absorb much more? Even if the content is different (prayers and sermons and scripture rather than news update) I’m still finding it challenging to take it all in.
I’m so thankful to see that Psalm 23 happens to be included in the lectionary reading for this fourth Sunday of Lent. Psalm 23 is a favorite of many and a familiar comfort in times of distress because it speaks directly to our anxious, wandering minds and hearts by rooting us in tactile, embodied images.
Reading the Psalm, we’re asked to put data and information aside and engage the imagination. “I am like a sheep,” the Psalmist says, “lay your worries aside and come take a walk with me. Let me tell you about my shepherd. He cares for you too.”
The Psalm is ripe with colorful images of green pastures, still waters, dark valleys, and even the decadent spread of a picnic laid out right smack-dab in the midst of a place of great threat.
If you find yourself struggling to “do church” or “find God” this week, I want to offer two simple practices you might try (these work great with kids too).
Imaginative Prayer: Try praying Psalm 23 using your imagination. This form of prayer comes from the Jesuit tradition and involves moving through a passage of scripture slowly, intentionally, and imaginatively. Read the passage once, to become familiar with it. Then, read through again, pausing to paint a mental picture of each image the Psalm presents.
For example: Imagine yourself as the sheep, feel your own thick wool. Feel the grass on your hooves, lay down in the great greenness, nibble some grass, if you want. Feel the shepherd’s presence beside you. How does the shepherd look at you?
Continue moving through the passage one verse at a time, imaginatively using all of your senses to engage with God. If you find your mind wandering, gently return to the verse or image at hand. You might move through the entire Psalm in this way, or you might move through one verse at a time over the course of several days. Taking time to journal about the experience afterward might help make any insights more concrete. If weather and circumstances allow, this imaginative prayer might be enhanced by being outside.
Praying With Your Body: Whether you’re trying to “do church” with several children or simply need a way to move away from your own mental gymnastics of fear and worry, praying with the body offers a great way to focus during times of stress.
Pardon the blurred images, but I’ve posted below a simple body prayer that accompanies Psalm 23. This prayer is taken from Roy DeLeon’s book, Praying With the Body: Bringing the Psalms to Life.
The first image below shows the adapted prayer and accompanying postures. The next two are a close-up of the first and second half of the prayer.
All of these postures (as drawn) take place on the floor – you’ll want to lay out a towel or exercise mat. They can also be easily done in a seated position in an upright chair (steal one from the dinning room table). Take the time to breath several times in each pose and repeat the suggested phrases. Breathing through your nose in a focused way (such that it makes a bit of noise) helps slow you down and bring attention to your breath.
You could move through this prayer once, slowly or several times as the postures become more familiar. I think this prayer movement could also be a lovely way to unwind and move toward bed at the end of each day.
DeLeon closes the prayer practice with this adapted interpretation of Psalm 23:
O Source of all life’s goodness,
you provide everything we need.
You teach me contentment, and true happiness,
the grass is not any greener where I am not.
In times of trouble, chaos, and calamity,
let me be wise and turn to you for comfort.
For you are a kind and merciful God,
a faithful friend with whom all is possible.
I hope these resources help you find ways to be grounded today and receive the Love and Comfort that’s available at all times and in all places as we open ourselves to God.
Got questions? Hit me up in the comments below.
Finding comfort or insight in focusing on this Psalm? Please feel free to share that too in the comments. Feel free to pass this resource along to any friends you think might benefit from these simple prayer practices.