Psalm 23: God Abides

Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, Bishop

from November 11, 2018:
As I write today, I think of the humble servant Catherine McAuley

who died on this date in 1841. 
On this Veterans’ Day, I think of all who have died in war.
I think of our Sister-veterans,
Sister Bernard Mary Buggelein and Sister Dorothy Hillenbrand
who served in WWII and now rest in our community cemetery.
All of their lives have been called into the great embrace of our Eternal God.
May all our lives inspire one another to humble service and praise.

November 11,2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 23, that confident string of affirmations that God abides with us in all of life’s seasons, even the winter of death.

Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.

Psalm 23

I pray with the psalm from two perspectives today. 

  1. November 11th is the anniversary of Catherine McAuley’s death, the beloved Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy.
  2. November 11th is observed in many countries commemorating the end of World War I:
  • Armistice Day (New Zealand, France, Belgium and Serbia)
  • Remembrance Day (United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations including Australia and Canada)
  • Veterans Day called Armistice Day until 1954, when it was rededicated to honor American military (Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force) veterans. (United States)

In all instances, we are reminded that, whether in peace or in war, our lives end in death, a sobering admission for our prayer today.

Most of us don’t choose to spend a lot of time thinking about our own death. Our human tendency is to think of death as loss rather than as the gain many saints, especially Paul, suggest to us, as in today’s first reading:

But when the kindness and generous love
of God our savior appeared,
not because of any righteous deeds we had done
but because of his mercy,
he saved us through the bath of rebirth
and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us
through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

Titus 3: 4-7

However, despite a natural tendency to deny it,
the reality of death becomes more intrusive as one grows older.

The vaulting English poet William Wordsworth struggled with the intrusion throughout his life. When commenting on his masterpiece, Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, Wordsworth wrote:

Nothing was more difficult for me in childhood
than to admit the notion of death
as a state applicable to my own being.

William Wordsworth

Wordsworth’s Ode, even for those unfamiliar with it, offers beautiful lines we might recognize immediately:

  • our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
  • trailing clouds of glory do we come from God
  • Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
  • though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass

Over many readings, this magnificent poem has always offered me both new insights and old comforts about life, death, nature, hope, peace and God – very much like Psalm 23. To prayerfully read one, then the other, is like a long, lovely hike into the heart of God.

Since I suggest it for our prayer today, I looked for a summary for those unfamiliar with it. Sparks Notes offers this:

It remains a powerful poetic meditation on death, the loss of childhood innocence, and the way we tend to get further away from ourselves – our true roots and our beliefs – as we grow older. But it is not merely elegiac: indeed, it becomes celebratory as Wordsworth comes to realise that the advancing years can still provide opportunities to catch some glimmers of that first encounter with nature as a child.

The complete poem is in a second post today, to give it all the prominence it deserves. I hope it blesses you as it does me.

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