Beside the Still Waters and The Liturgy of the Hours
This morning, just a few hours ago, as I was doing my morning devotions, the lake outside my window looked like this.
The phrase that came to mind was “he leadeth me beside the still waters.”
When I was a child, I memorized one of the most comforting passages in the Bible, Psalm 23, in the King James Version. You might have also. I invite you to say it aloud with me.
23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
The poet Wendell Berry may have had this Psalm in mind when he wrote his own poem about the healing power of still water:
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
You can hear Wendell Berry read his poem at this OnBeing link. His deep, resonant voice, full of love and absorbed pain, will make the words even more strong and beautiful.
In a few hours, I will join a group of nuns in praying the Psalms in Mid-day Prayer, a 1500-year-old practice that has offered the world a great Benedictine value: stability.
During the sixth and seventh centuries, sometimes called the “dark ages,” the monasteries carried on their missions. Without them we would not have had the flourishing Renaissance.
I am also remembering my own Anabaptist/Mennonite community. And missing it. I have this video of Mennonites singing together in a Music and Worship weekend two years ago. Sisters and brothers, watch and sing along!
Then, this afternoon, I will go walking in the woods with a friend who called to ask how I was doing.
Some days, the only thing to do is pray and read and sing and walk. Such days give us strength for all the other callings of our lives — and for all the days ahead, no matter how difficult.
What are YOU doing today? Your stories will sustain me, I know. They always have.
I am trying to be wise. It is hard. What else can one do? The psalm and the Berry poem help . . .
It is hard, Richard, to be wise. Always has been. Today is especially hard. I’m glad you found a little solace here.
By the way, you are wise. I look to your next post for help along my own way.
I enjoy your blog so much. I read this one from Nov. 9 just now; I was out of town last week, on a personal retreat, and on Nov. 10 after learning the election results I spent the day walking – literally hours of walking in beautiful woods that were a source of healing for me. I connected with these words from John O’Donohue in Eternal Echoes, Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong: “Nature stays in the womb of the Divine, of one pulse-beat with the Divine Heart. This is why there is a great healing in the wild. When you go out into Nature, you bring your clay body back to its native realm. A day in the mountains or by the ocean helps your body unclench. You recover your deeper rhythm. The tight agendas, tasks, and worries fall away and you begin to realize the magnitude and magic of being here. In a wild place you are actually in the middle of the great prayer. In our distracted longing, we hunger to partake in the sublime Eucharist of Nature.”
Thank you, Anne. This lovely quote from another of my favorite writers echoes in my soul also. I love the idea of taking my clay body back to its native realm. Last Saturday my friend Tina and I attended a Japanese clay ceremony here at the St. John Pottery. We saw the local clay in a huge bin and heard a story that I may want to come back to at a later time, but is a great counter-story to the breaking of pottery that is happening figuratively all around us.
During a road construction project somewhere near here, a vast deposit of good clay was found. That deposit required heavy equipment and the expense of moving it to the university/abbey. Without the abbey and its commitment to stability, it would have been impossible to find money for such a project. Banks, for example, want to see a 2-3 year return on the money. The abbey thinks long term and made the movement of the clay possible. Now there are 300 years of good clay in mounds under grass and trees. Waiting to be turned into pots by generations of potters we can only imagine now. I found that story very restorative. Hope you do too.
No matter how the political winds blow, reading scripture always steadies me. Hillary Clinton has just delivered her concession speech, with which she ended quoting Galatians 6:9 “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” In this quote, she continues a tradition embraced by the framers of our Constitution.
Scripture too speaks to the liturgy of the hours, referenced in your title. Here is some comfort from Psalms 119:164: “Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments.”
What am I doing today? Trying to write, but finding it hard to focus. I look forward to singing along with the video. Nothing like Mennonite 4-part harmony to soothe the spirit. Thank you!
Thank you, Marian, for these good words. I can always count on you to know an apt word. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver”
I’ll write more about the Liturgy of the Hours in a future post. I was surprised that here only three hours are celebrated each day. A post Vatican II change.
Hope you enjoy the singing. It’s almost time for my walk! See you on the other side of this day.
Your beautiful picture and words are calming balm today Shirley. I am organizing new wall shelves and clinging to the deep conviction that events that seem to be chaos and catastrophe may have deep purpose beyond our current comprehension. Most of us agreed that far too many aspects of our system no longer work and need to be reformed. We disagreed on how to best fix it and who was best suited to lead the effort.
Anything more than a simple cosmetic face lift for a building requires some tearing down, some deconstruction, to clear out the old debris in preparation for creating something new and marvelous. That period of tearing out the old is scary and uncomfortable, but the end result makes it worthwhile. Perhaps, just maybe, we are moving into such a period. Let’s hang together and hope for amazing outcomes.
Sharon, you expressed what I couldn’t find the words for, but I wholeheartedly agree with you.
It is hard to believe that this is all part of God’s plan for us, and yet if we are to believe this concept at all, then we we have no choice.
Shirley, I wrote something similar on my blog yesterday… reminding myself that no matter what the outcome of this election is, the sun will continue to rise and to set, and the seasons will still come and go, and I will continue to find solace in nature.
Sharon and Saloma, thanks for offering these activities and images. I see you building more beauty into your new space, Sharon, and I see you walking in nature, Saloma.
I just returned from my own walk, and though it was healing, it was also painful. The man who will become our president has shown no interest in protecting the earth for future generations. We can only hope that he will become more aware and at least allow the Paris agreement on climate change to stand. The big question is whether the rhetoric of the campaign will become policy in governing.
In her book “The Russlaender” Sandra Birdsell writes about her main character who had problems with her temper when she was young. Her Father told her to write out Psalm 23 and put it in her pocket. Every time she wanted to lose her temper she touched that piece of paper and the words came to her. Years later, when she lost everything she loved, these words kept her going and gave her strength to go on living. Let us not give up hope!
I like that story about the paper in the pocket. It reminds me of the story of the one-page Viktor Frankl found in the ragged coat he was given in Auschwitz. “Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in the pocket of the newly acquired coat a single page torn out of the Hebrew prayer book, which contained the main Jewish prayer, SHEMA YISREAL” aka Deuteronomy 6:4
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one God! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” A nice summary of the story can be found here: http://www.bonsallbuckingbulls.com/articles/20151123100620.html
It’s doubly difficult today to bring up holocaust literature because it could potentially ignite our fears instead of calming them. What I hope to do, however, is just the opposite. I want to increase our vigilance around fascism and also enlarge our pool of courageous narratives to increase hope in the face of despair. Man’s Search for Meaning always does both for me.
I am holding on to II Corinthians 4:18 — “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (NIV)
More apt words. May “an invisible cloak to mind your life” work its way around you. Listen to John O’Donoghue’s lovely poem here: http://www.onbeing.org/program/inner-landscape-beauty/feature/beannacht/1128
Wendell Berry AND “Who shall I fear?” — all in one post. Just what I needed today! Thanks!
So glad, Sharon. Good to see your name today and to know that you benefited.
I said the 23rd Psalm last night when sleep was difficult, and I’m saying it now with you.
I made a mandala with fallen leaves, on the ground, centered around ashes. The mandala speaks to me of the season, of my/our grief and also of wholeness.
I will join others in chanting and praying and sharing silence in a Taize service this evening.
All those loving movements seem beautiful and right. Thank you for blessing me, the earth, and others in all these practices, Dolores.
Shirley – I am being still. Very still. I am trying to absorb what has happened. An extension of source of energy, I am to reflect Light; I am to exude grace (the immediate presence of Spirit) regardless. I am having difficulty. Hence I am being still. Very still.
Thank you, Laurie, for reminding all of us that quietness, deep silence in our souls, is not only healing for us as individuals but also for others in a noisy, chaotic, uncertain time. Thank you for reflecting Light in silence.
A friend wrote early this morning: “Rest. Reflect. Do good locally.”
I also believe we more seasoned women can offer – to mothers with children, in particular – a place of stability, strength and dependable friendship.
Thank you, Shirley, for bringing out the issue of “seasoning” as service to othes, especially to younger women. Since I have been thinking about Jubilación, and since most of my friends are feeling anything but joy today, this idea appeals to me too.
I am walking – a lot – drawing energy from a beautiful day and letting nature remind me that everything cycles and no matter what, the sun comes up each morning. I’m also trying to do things to help others, e.g. writing a book review, cooking for my son. And periodically, I shed tears. I have to grieve this loss before I can let it go.
Dear Carol, when we picked the 8th of the month to be our time to connect, we had no idea how much we would have to grieve together in the month of November. So glad you are walking, crying, serving. And giving yourself permission to feel. I am with you.
Shared coffee and tears with a friend this morning,then visited an old black woman who kept asking why. More tears. Trying to meditate. Gray and rainy day. Church tonight, impromptu gathering. Grieving for my country.
Linda, your description of your day touches my spirit. And so does your friend’s question. I’m glad your church is a place to grieve together. And yes, it is for our country and the most vulnerable within it that we grieve.
Depression has been my companion today. She has been a true reflection of my deep wounded spirit.
MUSIC to release the tears
I have been replaying Sanctuary. https://youtu.be/HjOioWTVAl4
WORDS to affirm my sense of reality
Then I found John P’s perfect piece on “Why I Grieve”
To/From my sisters, several sister friends and this community.
Touching the deep still waters within.
Tomorrow I will walk, I will cook and bake and write.
Eventually,my depression companion will take her leave after doing her healing work. And my activist and creative animator self will surface and move forward. Peace to all.
Audrey, thank you for naming depression as one of the companions in this day. And for treating her with gentle respect. I felt depressed too, even more last night than today. We all need to find the kinds of solace that suit us, that we have come to recognize in our spirits through the woundedness of a lifetime. All the selves you name here will arise in their time and place. Peace to you as well, my friend.
Your view is beautiful and your day sounds calming. Today was my day to grieve and just get through. I did not sleep much last night, so I planned to not do much. I went to the gym, baked some bread, made a pot of soup, took a little rest, and talked to family and friends. I cried when I watched HRC make her concession speech. Tomorrow, I will get back to work, and I will try to fight against injustice and trampling on rights.
Look at that list of healing activities, Merril, as you “just got through” today. May you find rest tonight. Night is coming over the lake now. I send you wishes for strength for the fight against injustice tomorrow and after. Your naming that desire increases mine.
Thanks for kind words..I was just getting over the loss of my Mom…my husband and I reminded ourselves we are thankful for each other…I made a very simple roast chicken with carrots and potatoes and nice olive oil and herbs still Picked from my little herb garden…allowing ourselves to feel very sad; and enjoyed words from my cousin’s FB in PA: she will choose love, because hate is to big of burden.
Lois, let me add condolences here for the loss of your mother. Your roast chicken described here is a way to nurture all of us like a mother. Thank you. I am tasting those veggies and herbs in a savory broth right now. And I love the final quote. Hate is too big of a burden.
I started my day by reading, and meditating on my devotional.
My day was filled with a group of ladies that came to my home to make some homemade Christmas cards. We had eight of us, gathered together, lots of laughter, lots of fun. I had four of the ladies stay for lunch. I had made homemade buns earlier in the day, broccoli slaw salad, and ham and green onion quiche. We also indulged in a wonder layered pumpkin desert, I had gotten the recipe for the desert from my friend.
Thank you for sharing Wendell Barry’s poem. I is very nice to hear an author read a piece of their work, as the inflection of their tone of voice adds something that when reading, isn’t there.
June, your kind of day sounds more cheery than most here. Thank you for offering the gift of food, friendship, and creativity as well as your daily practice.
I’m glad you listened to Wendell Berry’s voice as you read his words. Wisdom reaches us from many sources. Sharing them multiplies their effect.
Thanks for bringing the soothing balm of Psalm 23 and poetry to a day so fraught with surrealism and sadness. I buried myself in my writing and sat away from my computer, the internet, and social media to ignore the temptation of fractured, broken voices.
Luckily I had a massage scheduled for my sore body. It helped my sore mind as well.
Linda, I admire your decision not to let social media break into your day today, and I’m also glad you allowed this particular post to speak to you.
Massage is such a good idea. I hope you are ending this day in peace. And that the writing you did today will help you and others heal from all the soreness.
Thank you for your blog. I follow it regularly and appreciate it very much.
The biggy today was an hour of physical therapy to regain the use of a shoulder that was completely replaced in May. Then it was repaired in September.
I try to be joyful through all of this as Joy is often
neglected. The hymn that came to my mind is “My Life Flows On.” How can I keep from singing?
Hi Glen, thanks for offering this hymn into the ending of this day. It’s a great Jubilación hymn. I’ve been thinking about joy today also. How to tap into it without denying pain.
I remember our conversation in Goshen when we talked about Collegeville. I hope you enjoy the pictures from this lovely place whose memory we will now share.
“The lord is the Strength of my life” was a timely song to hear after the announcement of the result of the Elections!
Glad it spoke to you, Wilma. It lifted me up today also.
Shirley, I listened to Berry’s reading–three times, because it was so wonderful–and the picture with the link, of the bare muddy feet, was a touching and real illustration. This post was a blessing in my life. Thank you.
You sent me back to look at the the bare muddy feet, Marylin. Thank you. And I’m so glad the post reached you. As you extend yourself to others today, in so many ways, may you be blessed.
Morning Shirley from this side of the world. It is the day after POTUS. I have the recording on and am listening as I write. It is lovely as is the Wendell Berry poem as is the Lord’s Prayer. I will check the link to Berry reading his poem where as you say he absorbs the pain … and makes the world more beautiful.
It is very busy for me, preparing for a talk on Dreams this Saturday afternoon, an invitation by the Theosophical Society. Am getting it under my belt I hope. The day is bright, an extraordinary storm last night, much rain, much needed. And fitting somehow – I thought of the skies shedding tears for all those who are in pain and shock after POTUS. And for all of us here in South Africa.
Thank you for this lovely post!
Susan, as I write, I’m traveling by commuter train into “the cities” — Minneapolis and St. Paul. I’ll be meeting my friend Tina and attending Courtney Martin’s exciting book launch at the On Being studio in Loring Park. Our lives are far apart and yet connected. May your talk go well, and may we continue to practice peace in the best ways we can.
Thanks for all of it, Shirley. I always find myself returning to The Lord’s Prayer, a favorite as a child even though my family rarely went to church. I think I learned it from my Presbyterian grandma who loved church. This morning, my mother-in-law is in the hospital–taken there by 911 because she was wandering. Her health aide is with her, but I’m waiting for doctors to call as I get ready to go there. More chaos as I try to keep her out of a nursing home but don’t know if it’s possible. What can I/we do? Meditate, feed the birds, be in nature, pray, breathe, stay calm and wait. Read Wendell Berry’s poem over and over again. It’s a favorite. Thanks for reminding me of this good medicine.
The prayers we learned as children leave deep residue in our spirits.
I hope you have found a way out of the chaos of trying to care for your mother-in-law, Elaine. You have so many internal practices and resources. These will sustain you as will your many friends online.
[…] If you enjoy poetry, here’s The Peace of Wild Things, by Wendall Berry, compliments of Shirley Hershey Showalter’s recent post. […]
I am just reading this now, and wish I had read it last week, when the pain was fresh and I felt hopeless and depressed about what is to come. Tuesday night was full of tears–I didn’t sleep much. I got up early Wednesday morning, around 4:15 as usual, to feed the cats. I didn’t want to write. I was full of anger and unbearable regret. But I fired up the computer and sat and poured my feelings into my character. The writing may not be worth much in the long run, but it helped at the time. Thank you for sharing Berry’s poem–I’ve already copied it to print out to read when needed.
Tina, this is a time to claim the healing power of art. You are writing as though it is a matter of life and death. Thank goodness for art. It transforms us, and maybe, if we are fortunate, it transforms others and the world. Keep pouring yourself into that character!