I remember once, long ago, I was at a church council retreat. It was so long ago that I was not running the retreat -- I was one of the lay leadership attending the retreat. We were out at a cabin in the woods somewhere, and our opening, ice-breaker activity, designed to help us share our stories and get to know each other better, was to take big pieces of paper and draw our spiritual journey.
As you might imagine, most of us turned the paper horizontally, and drew -- well -- a road. Everyone drew a road of some sort or another, with a beginning and an end, and markers along the way for events of spiritual significance.
And then there was me. For some reason (don't ask me why) I turned my paper vertically, and drew three scenes: on the bottom, I drew a picture of the desert, representing the Arizona desert that I had grown to love, even though I had not grown up there. In the middle, I drew the lakes of my Minnesota home, lakes that I had swum in, walked around, and picnicked at my whole life. On the top I drew mountains, the mountains I had encountered while I had lived and worked as a missionary in Japan.
Three actual places (although my crayon drawings did not do them justice), but also metaphors for the all the places I had gone in my life, from church camp (mountains) to painful relationship endings (deserts).
When I think of Psalm 23, I don't only think of the shepherd and the sheep, even though the Psalm begins, "The Lord is my shepherd." I also think of the geography of the psalm, all of the places where the shepherd leads the sheep: green pastures, still waters, paths of righteousness. Even the valley of the shadow of death. Something about the geography makes me think, not just about the shepherd and the sheep, but the geography -- the geography of the journey.
It's hard not to think about this, actually. I made the journey from Minnesota to Texas last year. The geography is different here, in both subtle and profound ways. There are forests and fields of bluebonnets and poisonous snakes; Houston gives "urban sprawl" a whole new meaning.
Then there is the journey to this new calling, being a pastor to this church called "Grace". We just got done with a council retreat. The process we used was called a "Roadmap", and we dreamed and made plans and put markers down on our pathway. What do we value? Where do we want to be this time next year? How are we going to get there? We asked and answered questions together.
On this particular journey, I keep thinking that I am supposed to be the leader. This is true. I have a responsibility on this journey. But it is not always what I suppose it to be. I think that my job, as the leader, is to ensure success, to crack the whip, to make sure everyone does what they are supposed to do.
But there's the beginning of the Psalm again, reminding me of the truth:
The Lord is our shepherd. We shall not want.
On this journey, my job is to remind us all that the Lord is our shepherd, and that we shall not want. Whatever we do, whatever our goals are, whatever our mission is, whatever terrain we travel.
My job is to remind us all that he leads us along the paths of righteousness, which are the paths of trust, the paths of grace. He leads us along paths that are not easy, but are, even so, grace-filled.
Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (and we will), even though we will stumble (and we will), even though we will fail, (and we will):
The Lord is our shepherd.