There is a short simple Psalm–the twenty-third, written by an ancient Palestine shepherd in shepherd’s pictorial language, which through the centuries has impressed almost all types of minds as a picture of life that belongs in the list of perfect creations.
… the Psalm presents the three periods, the three stages of life through which we pass. It begins with the naïve, child-minded stage of life, when everything is provided, without care or worry or anxiety, or any sense that life is a difficult affair. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He leadeth me in green pastures and by level brooks.” There is only one short period of life like that for any of us, when everything we need comes to us without any sense of the strain of providing, when we are surrounded by loving providers and the supplies come to meet the needs.
Then comes the middle stage of life… There are hills to climb, and dark deep valleys with frightening shadows to be passed through. … and only by slow and patient experience we discover step by step that our Shepherd-God is with us in the dark and shadowed valleys. … He anoints us with His oil of gladness and our cups–and our saucers too–overflow with more than enough, with a glad surplus for others.
This brings us to a third and wonderful stage. Through the struggle with the deeps and the heights, and the consciousness of Presence through it all, we acquire a new kind of faith, very different from that naïve faith at the beginning. It is now a faith, robust and virile, founded on experience, tested in the dark and on the mountain hillside, in the face of difficulties. We can look back on the guided journey–the rod and the staff, the table and the oil–and we can look forward with the assurance: “Surely goodness and mercy now shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”
[After the first two stages] comes the third calm stage of rightly formed and settled character which has come to birth through the battle with stern issues of life. … issues are settled and the forged anchors hold. We have banked the assets formed in the moral struggles of the past and they, with God, are for us forever.
(The) third and wonderful stage of life may be called “secondary instinct,” or subconscious processes. This is the stage of achieved skill, when one hits the mark of his aim with the sureness of instinct, but with the wisdom of slow and painful acquisition. We write without knowing how we do it. … We play the intricate and complicated opus on the piano or the violin with swift movements which seem to come from beyond the steering process of the mind. The perfect performer can never explain how he does it any more than the centipede can tell “which leg comes after which.”
One can quietly fall back in confidence on acquired skill and say with the Psalmist, surely this gift from above shall be with me all the days of my life.
This perfect Psalm fits every stage and every level of life, and what I have been saying about the deep and hidden processes of life-formation are at least implied, if not explicitly expressed, in the beautiful Psalm of the ages.
– excerpts from Rufus M. Jones,
“The Height of Life,” The Radiant Life, 1944.
My LORD attends;–I shall not want;–
He lets me rest in verdant fields,
He leads me by the pleasant brooks,
He brings me back, my life refreshed,
To skip with joy, and praise His Name.
Though I may walk through Death’s dark Vale,
I fear no hurt, for You are there,
Your rod and staff direct my way.
You spread my board before my foes,
With flowing cup have oiled my head.
Kindness and mercy follow me,
On every day I live;
And in the LORD’S house I shall dwell,
To lengthen out my days.
translated by Ferrar Fenton
The Bible in Modern English, Fourth Edition, 1906