Shepherd Me, O God

Like many of you, I’ve lately felt somewhat depleted in my spiritual life. The world is on fire, and there continues to be trouble in so many places, but in this time, I find I’ve been having trouble gathering in the graces and goodness as well.  And there is such goodness to celebrate, truly, but in this last stretch, I’ve found a numbing and a difficulty connecting in prayer, and that is usually a sign for me that it’s time for something to shift.

Not two days ago, before I headed to bed, I prayed what could be considered a child’s prayer.  I got down on my knees in my empty living room with a heavy sigh, and very simply, I asked God for a shepherd. 

It has been many years since I’ve had a real pastoral voice in my life, a mentor or guide or spiritual director who helps me discern or define where God might be leading or what he’s saying to me, his dear daughter. Many of the voices I’d depended on in this kind of role are gone now, home in Heaven where I’m sure they hear me but gosh, I do miss the here-ness of them, the way Fr. Joe Callahan would say my name or Bob Mackey would encourage my music ministry before or after mass, or Deacon Jerry Ryan would help me sort through the churchiness of it all to get to the heart of Jesus who loves me. So many of them gone now, the ones who spoke goodness into my life at every stage, so much so that now their names and faces are a kind of meditation to me: Ralph, Fr. Frank, Don, Julie, Mom. And this is what happens, of course, as we grow older and we ourselves become the ones who speak into others’ lives ,which I try to do, but there’s something about the state of the church and the state of this country that can make us feel these days that we sheep are kind of alone, scattered, each of us responsible for making our own way in our lives of faith. If our spirits convict us against the hardline, ideological, politicized state of the church and so many American faith leaders, if our beloved family members or dear friends wouldn’t be welcome in our parishes, if the words of some of the shepherds sound antithetical to the Jesus we know, if we lack community or gospel-centered leadership, if nothing seems to ever change, if our seeking has made us exhausted and we’re out here feeding our own faith day after day, at some point we can look around and wonder, am I really all alone in this?  Is this the way that a life of faith is supposed to feel?

When I asked God for a shepherd that night on my living room carpet, I was hoping for a literal somebody to come alongside and bolster me.  We all need reinforcement from time to time, don’t we, and as someone who leads and directs others in the way of faith, it felt long past time for a good cup-filling, to be honest.

Instead, help came in the form of a nice person at physical therapy, a dinner party plan with my daughter, a hug from my husband, magnesium gummies, a better night’s sleep.  It wasn’t until I left my morning preschool music classes today that I felt the buoyed effect from singing and dancing with little ones, the way the admiring and appreciative words from their grown-ups helped me to see the value of my vocation as a teacher.  Still, on the way home, something pulled me toward a midday mass, and I thought maybe I’d find what I was looking for there.

As it turned out, because God is hilarious, there was no mass.  So, I sat in an empty chapel, and I prayed into a space that by now felt like a vacuum and I wondered just where my shepherd had gotten to.  What was the delay?

I opened the Laudate app on my phone, and read the readings of the day, out loud, to myself, because that’s what you do in an empty church where there is no one there to read for you.  And here is what I read:

The word of the Lord came to me:
Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel,
in these words prophesy to them to the shepherds:
Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the shepherds of Israel
who have been pasturing themselves!
Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?
You have fed off their milk, worn their wool,
and slaughtered the fatlings,
but the sheep you have not pastured.
You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick
nor bind up the injured.
You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost,
but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally.
So they were scattered for the lack of a shepherd,
and became food for all the wild beasts.
My sheep were scattered
and wandered over all the mountains and high hills;
my sheep were scattered over the whole earth,
with no one to look after them or to search for them.

Therefore, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
As I live, says the Lord GOD,
because my sheep have been given over to pillage,
and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast,
for lack of a shepherd;
because my shepherds did not look after my sheep,
but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep;
because of this, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
Thus says the Lord GOD:
I swear I am coming against these shepherds.
I will claim my sheep from them
and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep
so that they may no longer pasture themselves.
I will save my sheep, 
that they may no longer be food for their mouths.

For thus says the Lord GOD: 
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.

EZ 34: 1-11

Maybe you can imagine what it was like to sit there in an empty church and hear God use your own voice to tell you that he sees it all, that he sees the state of so many shepherds who are not looking after God’s sheep but are instead pasturing themselves.  That he sees how the sheep have scattered and are wandering, how he knows that they’ve been mistreated by shepherds who have stolen their milk, worn their wool and endangered their children. Maybe you can imagine what it was to hear God use your own voice to say that he himself will put a stop to the harm, that he will claim you and all of those who are wandering, and that God himself will look after and tend to us all.  If you are depleted like I am, and if you were on the look-out for a shepherd as I was, and if you heard these words come out of your own mouth, maybe it would feel like a miracle, or maybe like a letdown. May you’d hope that this kind of direct-from-God shepherding would be enough, that it could manifest in real ways that break through the numbness and heartache of this time in the church.  Maybe, like me, you’d put your hand up in surrender in that empty chapel that perhaps wasn’t so empty after all, and you’d hope and trust that he’d take it, just like he always has before. 

And maybe the only answer that could be uttered would come in the words of the responsorial psalm that followed in the day’s readings, printed clear as day in the app on your phone:

The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

He’s the one we are looking for. And what that kind of shepherding might look like, friend, I don’t know, but I have a feeling and a hope and a hunch that Jesus’s church full of wandering sheep may be about to find out.  Dear God, I do hope so.

2 responses to “Shepherd Me, O God”

  1. Kevin Holland Avatar
    Kevin Holland

    Thank You, Kerry. I’m right there with you… Emptied, yet full of hope, for our God sees all, knows all, and has a plan, for each of us. You and your writings are a gift. Thank you, friend ❤️

    1. kcampbell116 Avatar

      Good to know we’re not alone, friend!

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