By Michael Ketterhagen
“The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack….
He guides me along right paths…
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.”
Psalm 23: 1, 3-4 (New American Bible Revised)
Most Christians know the 23rd Psalm, which is part of the Hebrew and Christian holy books. In times of dramatic pain and struggle, all through my growing years, I have heard this psalm spoken or sung. It has given many people much consolation during the trying times of life.
The imagery of God as shepherd made lots of sense to me as I was growing up on the farm. I knew the importance of the farmer because I used to call the cows every morning from the back woods starting at age five. They would hear my voice and begin to move toward the barn for milking. I knew that they trusted my call and would sometimes even call back with a long “moo”, letting me know that they heard me even though we were not in sight of each other.
But the image of God as shepherd doesn’t make sense to my grandchildren. They were never raised in an agricultural environment. They may understand the care and concern that their dogs have for their voice, especially when they come home, but the “shepherd-language” doesn’t really help them understand how much help and protection comes from God. The shepherd image is a powerful way to let people know how important God is to us sheep.
Even the idea of sheep or even being like a well-trained dog, doesn’t convey the image of strong, independent thinking teenagers or young adults or even executives. Their life or death is not dependent on an overseer who would save them from the wolves, traps or dangers in their lives. A sheep is helpless, usually, and quite dumb. The younger generations are not helpless and dumb. They know how to operate in our 21st century world better than most senior citizens, or often better than moms and dads.
So, what image would help the younger generation really learn to surrender to the loving, active presence of the Divine in their lives? Is it possible for the self-directed person to really see God as this loving, corrective, protective reality in their lives, like the Jewish people did in the time of Jesus of Nazareth?
He called himself the Shepherd and the gate of the Shepherd’s corral. What would yoga call the shepherd in our lives? What is the gate that leads us to the safe place of the Divine? What “voice” do we need to know and hear that will not lead us astray and pull us away from our union with that Divine Presence in our lives?
Yoga would say that the Divine Shepherd is our inner voice, our conscience, which is different from clamor of our inner desires for security, fame, fortune, calling to us from our worries, fears, and loneliness. The gate where that Divine Shepherd stands, calling us away from the traps and dangers of the non-spiritual life, is the tips of our nostrils. From the ends of our nostrils flows the stillness to hear the true voice of our inner divinity, the true source of union for which the happiness-seeker longs.
We just need to sit, breathe and listen to our Divine Inner Shepherd.
I pray to the divinity in you!