Meditation: Pearls from the 23rd Psalm
Given by James Lonie, September 15, 2023 at Christ Church Anglican, Lion’s Head Ontario
We have gathered here today- not only to grieve the passing of Leonor and not only to celebrate a life well lived, but to give thanks to God for her life lived among us.
We have gathered here today- not only to mourn how different our lives will be without her, but to give thanks to God for how full life was when she was with us – for the laughter, for the tears, for the fun times and all the collective joy-filled memories.
Leonor was a woman filled with care, compassion, dignity, the occasional opinion, optimism and love. A woman whose life spanned the spectrum of empathy, enthusiasm, elegance, and encouragement. She was great lady – a gracious woman who was forthright, friendly and faithful. A woman who loved her faith – her family and those around her, with great intensity and care.
Post-Retirement I have had the great honour and privilege of serving as the Spiritual Care Provider at the Golden Dawn Nursing Home, where for the past number of years Leonor had been a resident. I have some cherished memories of Leonor, during her time at the nursing home. Many times she would gently clasp my hand and offer me a kind and encouraging word, share a story or ask me to read a portion of Scripture and pray. Then she might give me one of those famous smiles – letting me know that whatever I had been doing; I had received her caring and kindly approval. Many times as I would be reading to her or talking with her –she would be a source of great personal encouragement to me. She was one of those rare points of light that always seemed to put a spark into my day and reminded me that what I was doing was worthwhile.
When you look up into the night sky you often see the millions of stars that shine brightly against the darkness. Yet often there are just a few stars that shine just a little brighter and bolder- that stand out among the rest. Leonor was one of those for me and I know that she was one of those for you also.
In fact I am not sure if I was visiting with her most of the time or she was visiting with me… Often with 35-45 residents, I can’t get to everyone each time that I am in the nursing home. However, every time she saw me walking past her door, she would often smile or graciously nod for me to come in and visit with her. It was always a privilege and it helped to lift and encourage me in the midst of my day.
Leonor was herself a wonderful and joy-filled pearl and more than anything, cherished and beloved by her late-husband, family, friends, community, the many staff and residents of the Golden Dawn and all those who knew her.
Many times I read the 23rd Psalm to Leonor and she would listen graciously, quietly nod and approvingly smile. For time immemorial the 23rd Psalm has been one of the most often read, recited and treasured passages in the Sacred Scriptures. This is primarily because the Psalmist has provided for us Pearls of Great Hope, that go beyond the boundaries of time-space and life.
Yet what do we know about the Author of this Psalm – well, we do know that David was a great king and a man dubbed to be after God’s own heart. He was also a man of great and at times faltering faith.
When it comes to the 23rd Psalm itself, we can only surmise what the immediate circumstances may have been so many, many years ago. Yet, whatever the occasion may have been, it was surely one of those times when life seemed to be disrupted and in great turmoil and the surrounding ground seemingly not as firm as it once was. However, despite this, the Psalmist speaks with an intense sense of serenity and from a place of deep and quiet assurance.
David speaks to us about the daunting “Shadow of Death.” He directly points us to the only true source of deep confidence and positive assurance in difficult times: God Himself. He spoke of his “Walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.” I think that here his decision to use the word “Valley” is of great spiritual and practical significance. In this Pearl he paints the image of a valley – an area which is often located at the bottom of a serene , peaceful and meditative mountain. An area where we can quietly find peace, protection, guidance and rest, in the very presence of God.
The Psalmist continues his thoughts as he describes Death as a great and foreboding “Shadow.” It is important for us to remember that a Shadow only exists as long as there is enough light present to allow for it. God was not only David’s Shepherd who made provision for his needs amidst the cares and burdens of life; God Himself lit, illuminated and directed his way forward.
One of the most significant words in Psalm 23 is often one that I would contend that we frequently read over without attributing much consideration to it: It is the word “Through.” The Psalmist tells us of a walk “Through” the valley. He posits it as not necessarily as a walk into the valley or a walk in the valley or even a walk all around the valley. He does not suggest that a bridge be built in order to cross the valley or that a tunnel be dug in order to simply get under the valley and to the other side. Instead, in this Pearl from the Psalms, he talks about the process and journey of having to walk “Through the Valley.”
Many times in the economy of God, it seems that the only way out of whatever situation we find ourselves navigating is “Through.” Yet, he is always and often right there with us in the midst of the muck, mire and magnanimity of life. You see, the basis for our hope is found at the very feet of the great Shepherd of our Souls: God himself. Leonor always carried with her the presence, love and best thoughts of her family and friends and she believed and held dear her relationship with the Great Shepherd who walked beside her.
The reality of life is that the Great Shepherd has not only walked before us but has made abundant preparations for our times of trial, tears of travail and times of triumph. Even in these hallowed moments, we are in the midst of family and friends positioned between the darkness and depth of grief and the fullness and brightness of Love, and I believe the Good and Gentle Shepherd is here in this very moment – in our midst, comforting and caring and compassionately helping us and walking us through this valley called grief.
Leonor has gone on before and we will miss her; we will miss her truly and beyond all measure. Yet our walk along this “trail of tears” is not an individual one. Together we are the best collective help and care for the journey both now and in the long days ahead. And the Good Shepherd will come, maybe even in the quiet, loneliness and stillness of the night and hold us, care for us and bring us comfort amidst the silence of our tears and the quiet and gentle rending of our hearts.
This 23rd Psalm – This Pearl – is a constant reminder that God Himself will compassionately care for, console, contend for and comfort us. This Psalm is frequently called upon in the circumstances set before us this morning. For many of us know and understand even as Leonor herself knew and understood, that there are times in our lives when we are in great need for simple green pastures and the quiet of still waters.
The Psalmist in his own way guides and directs us to the Great Shepherd who does more than simply care, protect and support us. He Loves us. And we have come to know that through the thick and thin of life that the road that we walk both individually and collectively today is not an unfamiliar way. Many have also walked this way before.
It is the great Road Less Travelled, alone and together, as He seeks even now to renew, restore, refine and refresh our tender hearts.
Leonor, we love you, we miss you, we will remember you.