My dad, who was part of two hymnal commissions, was prone to say and repeat often that the hymnal is the best book of prayer, theology, and devotion the church has, and should sit alongside your bible on your night-stand. Nowadays both would be found by many of us on a phone app of some sort.
Whatever the case, the good thing going on in my head today is the little song we sometimes sing in repeated fashion, like a breath prayer: “Shepherd me O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.” (Marty Haugen, GIA Publications, 1986). Here’s a link to listen to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0kxWXHETlU. Of course its a paraphrased summary of Psalm 23, the most famous of all the psalms, which was ancient Israel’s hymnal.
It’s haunting melody stops me in my tracks, and reaches to my heart. And guess what, it’s short enough to stick in my aging memory, and return again and again! There are verses too, that offer language for life’s experiences of God’s presence in weariness, leading through life’s journey, shepherding love in seasons of dark valleys, and never-ending promises of life. Wonderful realities, but it’s that repeated refrain that holds me these days.
Separate from any plans or ideas or plans of mine, the song has been showing up as I pass in and out of the doorways of each days journey, like it is alive and inviting me to reach out to God in all my comings and goings. I can only attribute it to be evidence of the Holy Spirit’s bidding.
It’s gotten almost obsessive/compulsive, and just wonderful. Yesterday I must have found myself humming and muttering the words at least fifty different times. Just now, today, (2 p.m. Wednesday) it accompanied me to the doctor and back to my office. No radio blasting necessary! (Quite something for a rock and roll rebel!).
The more I sing it, the more it becomes the prayer of my soul. I feel as deeply as ever my need and longing for God’s presence, activity, and leading…if I will only “let go, and let God” as the schmaltzy saying goes.
Most of our neighbors on our street are Jewish and have mezuzahs, which are small pieces of Shema scripture wound up in a cylinder nailed to their doorposts. “Mezuzah” means doorpost in Hebrew. The shema begins “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” (Deuteronomy 6). It fulfills the command of God to “write the words of God on the gates and doorposts of your house.” More than anything, it’s a reminder that the God who saves, the God of Exodus, is with us as we go out and come in. We start continuously over with this simple truth.
For me, this haunting little song has become like that. We’ll sing it together in our worship soon, and the choir will help lead us. But until then, make it your mezuzah!
“Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.”
Love from here