As a young person, I read the Bible because I was required to. Certain passages thrilled me, like the Apostle Paul’s treatise on love, King David’s Shepherd Psalm, and especially the King James Version of a verse in Job confirming the existence of unicorns. Unicorns! Then my mother explained that later translators understood the animal to be an ox.
But even after that staggering disappointment, I kept reading. I read (and memorized) the Bible to earn stickers on a chart at my small Christian school. I read it all night in my living room with a handful of pimply teenagers to raise money for our youth group. I finished it one night before my high school graduation and then began reading through it again.
The books that spoke to me the most were about the life of Jesus – the miracles and mysteries about how to be part of the Kingdom of God. Some books, such as Revelation, terrified me. Others, like Psalms, seemed rather dull, full of a lot of bellyaching and grief. Who were those wide-hipped, dewy-eyed women in church who claimed the Psalms gave them such comfort?
Then I became one of those women and discovered how much there was to grieve: racism, sexism, global inequality, the oppression of the poor, COVID-19, social distancing, wildfires, riots, discrimination, police brutality, the upcoming election and this summer’s lack of rain. To cope, I find myself turning to the Psalms almost daily, like Psalm 46, which begins, “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble” (NLT).
And Psalm 91, “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty… For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease” (1-3). And Psalm 67, “May God be merciful and bless us. May his face smile with favor on us. May your ways be known throughout the earth, your saving power among people everywhere” (1-2).
Instead of whizzing through the Psalms to earn a sticker, I pause every couple of verses to pray them. God, you are my refuge and strength. Please help us in this time of trouble. Give us your rest. Protect my family and neighbors and health care workers from this new disease. Show us your mercy. Save people everywhere who need your help.
Prayer doesn’t exempt me from action. Rather, it seeks a wisdom, power and protection beyond my own to take the right action. It recognizes that while I have free agency, I don’t have free control. And when I read the news or look across my sun-withered lawn at my drought-shriveled trees and feel as if perhaps we are all walking through the valley of the shadow of death, I pray to know that I am not alone.
“The Lord is my shepherd,” I remind myself four decades after first reading those words in Psalm 23. “He renews my strength… He guides me along right paths… I will not be afraid.”
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of mid-coast Maine. She is also the author of the picture book The Lantern Hill Light Parade and four other books celebrating the holidays in a way that builds children’s faith.