It’s possible that I’m turning into my mom.
As a child, I had the mother who would pull over the car to show us a beautiful sunset. She would comment on the forsythia festooning the bus route across Central Park. And she would be the distracted driver each fall when looking at the leaves changing colors when driving through the countryside.
All of these potentially beautiful moments were met by eyerolls and heaving sighs and echoes of “MOOOOOOMMMM. STOP BEING WEIRD.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but yes. I’m that weird mom these days.
I found myself pulled over to the edge of the road one afternoon, gazing up at a neighbor’s tree. It felt alive with color, a yellow somewhere between neon and glowing, and the blue, blue sky of a New England fall set it off even more. The irony being that the next day—which was an equally gray, gray sky of a New England fall, set it off equally well. And yes, I pulled over to take it all in once again.
As I felt the fall leaves beckon and my subconscious reminding me to move my car on occasion so as not to appear as though I were casing the neighbor’s house, I found myself considering Psalm 23.
It’s the ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ one. The one we always say at funerals. The one which is sung during the final credits of the Vicar of Dibley. The one which talks about a rod and staff and the care of the Good Shepherd for his sheep. The one where ‘Surely goodness and mercy’ can be reframed as an Airplane! ‘Don’t call me Shirley’ joke.
Can you tell how unusual it was for me to consider this psalm while parked under a tree in the midst of change?
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
Maybe it came to mind because my mother instilled in me, either by repeated practice or genetic inclination, the eyes to notice the changes around me these days. Maybe it’s because when I first learned this psalm as a teenager (in a World Religions class, no less!), I didn’t want anyone to lead me to safety and protection—I wanted freedom and experience then, not comfort. Rods and staffs offered little to me as a fourteen-year-old. Forsythia blooming through concrete offered little spark then. Sunsets could come and go, and while I would find them beautiful, I wouldn’t necessarily find them moving.
And then I got older.
And my life—and the lives of my family members, and my friends, and my parishioners, and my communities, began to change. People would move, divorce, start again. People would die, be born, discover illness. People would fight, bail, ghost. The bizarre nature of impermanence makes itself known the longer we all live.
Perhaps that is why trees in the midst of their own change can stop me in my tracks these days with the strange beauty of color and transition and endings.
And why, as an adult, Psalm 23 is a surprise solace in those moments of change.
With so many transitions, decisions, and deeper understanding of the flaws of the world creeping in, the very thought of a God who would provide for me a place to nap, sate thirst, dangle toes in the water and feast feels so—dare I say it? Comforting. A God who would walk with me, and hold me close when I needed it, when I was scared or ready to bail myself. A God who made the transitions beautiful in trees so that maybe we wouldn’t be so scared of them when they happened in our lives.
And when I stop the car on the way to a kid’s practice or school, and I tell them, ‘LOOK AT HOW BEAUTIFUL THAT IS!’ when we pass a particularly stupendous tree, and they respond with ‘MOOOOOOMMM. STOP BEING WEIRD?’ Maybe it will plant a seed for them even though they aren’t in that place where they need the tree as much as I do; they don’t need Psalm 23 like I do.
And that’s okay. Because they will grow up. Possibly into me, as I have clearly done with my own mother. And suddenly they, too, may discover the strange beauty of comfort in the midst of change; the odd joy in the endings; and the subsequent wonder at what those endings can birth.