“Psalm 23: A Faith-less Voice, An Orphan’s Voice, Trialogue, Reflections of a Priest,” James Grady, Samuel Lampert, and Sarah Richards


James Grady, Samuel Lampert, Sarah Richards, Rachel Greenberger

A psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me to water in places of repose;
He guides me in  right paths
as befits His name.
4 Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness,
I fear no harm, for You are with me;
Your rod and your staff-they comfort me.
5You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my drink is abundant.
6 Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
for many long years.

James Grady

Ps 23:1 I shall not want– Literally, this cannot be true. There is a perfection not proper to human beings implied in lacking nothing. Rather, this points out that as we read this psalm, the psalmist lays out those things that truly matter, after which everything else is “nothing.”

Ps 23:2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures– The image of the shepherd and his flock is a good metaphor here. Sheep are grazing animals that roam. There is an old saying, also, about human discontent–the grass is always greener on the other side. But it is so often not the case that the grass is, in fact, greener on the other side; we need something or someone to make us “lie down” in the green pasture we are willing to abandon out of misplaced discontent.

Ps 23:4 Yea, though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me: Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me– A shift in voice may be noted. Verses 1-3 speak of “the Lord” in third person. From Verse 4 to the end, the psalmist is speaking directly to the Lord.

Ps 23:4 Yea, though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me: Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me– We continue here with the metaphor of the shepherd. So many times, we doubt the presence of our Shepherd, our God, in times of trouble, in “valley[s] of deepest darkness.” After all, how rational is it to fear no harm in such a place? But the psalmist doesn’t propose blind faith that the Lord is with you–after all, it is His “rod and [His] staff” that comfort. It is his staff that guides us through the darkness, and we can feel it. It is the same staff that has led us “to water in places of repose.” And the rod is a constant reminder of His presence; it is the rod with which he punishes us. But even the punishing rod can, at times, be a comfort in the dark valleys of torment, if the person experiencing it understands God as a direct actor in his or her life, because it can remind us that He is still with us. This interpretation is only acceptable insofar as the Psalm is not applied to justify the crimes of an abuser or to create a false sense of comfort.

Ps 23:5 Though preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies– The psalmist appears to be saying that not only will the Lord act as one’s “shepherd,” but He will do so in plain view of all. So, there will be no doubt that He is not only “with [us]”–it will be obvious that He is acting directly and to our benefit as well.

Ps 23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me– This may be a return to the shepherd metaphor; the good shepherd defends his sheep from the pursuit of the wolf and other predators. And it may be presumed that if God were the shepherd, nothing of a contrary nature could pursue the sheep. If, however, this is the meaning that the Psalmist intends, how can we reconcile this with the fact that we do encounter hardships and are pursued? It could be argued that the sheep have strayed, but as readers, are we willing to accept this sort of “justice?”

Ps 23:6 I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever– The result of the good shepherding, which wards off all predators, is long life in the comfort of the shepherd, for his sheep, and if God is the shepherd, the long life may be extended to eternal life after death.


 Sam Lampert

Age 22: I’m allergic to pollen.
The LORD is my Shepherd
I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me to still waters.
Are you kidding? If the Lord is my shepherd, then I’m a sheep and what exactly do sheep have? They don’t have much. Should we all be content to rest in meadows and ponds covered with lily-patties? I have no desire to live in a painting, like a woman with a umbrella and a dress that’s showing her undies. That’s fine in a museum, but not in reality. And another thing: nobody is going to make me like down in green pastures. I’m allergic to flowers.
Besides, I don’t want to lie down. I want to go somewhere, make something of myself. This psalm might be well and good for a country bumpkin who is content to live in the same place as his great-grandfather, but I want to make some money. Lack nothing? I lack something. I lack fame and fortune, power and prestige. I don’t have time to lie down and even if I did, it sure wouldn’t be in a green pasture. The Lord can be your shepherd, follow him wherever you want. I’m going to be rich.
He renews my life.
My life isn’t a library book. It doesn’t need renewal, thank you.
He guides me in right paths
as befits his name.
Guide me? How? I don’t see him. Life is not a tour. This is for real. Every man for himself. Everything I have ever done has been of my own initiative. I don’t ask a favor of a soul. I’m going to be a self-made man. Look around; you’re not going to get where you want to go by following the right paths. You have to want it. Life isn’t a walk through a field, you need to lie and you need to cheat. Everyone else does it and I will too. I’m not happy about it, that’s just the way things are. Those paths don’t befit his name. Those paths befit me.
I had a rich uncle who was duped by this stuff. He gave all his money to some evangelical preacher. And my uncle wasn’t even religious. Now his kids, my cousins, need to work. And they work hard. The only person who benefited from that path was the preacher. And you know what? He was arrested for embezzlement a couple years ago.
Though I walk through the valley of deepest darkness,
I fear no harm for you are with me.
Only suckers believe that. Fear harm; it’s part of life. Feel free to walk wherever you want, but if I were you, I would fear some harm. Some places just aren’t safe. Really, that’s what angers me the most about this stuff. Some angel, floating on a cloud, says, “I think we should tell them not to fear danger.” And God says, “Good idea, but I think we should say, ‘fear no harm.” And the angel says, “Well, you’re God, God.” And the psalm is written. What do they know about fear, they’re immortal. If I were living in heaven, I wouldn’t fear harm either. But that’s just it; you and I aren’t in heaven. It may not be the valley of deepest darkness, but we’re not surrounded by pearly gates either.
Your rod and your staff they comfort me.
I don’t understand this line. If you do, that’s cool.
You set a table for me in full view of my enemies.
This is the truest thing I have heard so far. God sets tables for us all the time. It’s just that they’re usually in full view of our enemies. A mouse sees some cheese and thinks, “Wow, God set a table for me.” The mouse goes over, nibbles a little and, whack! the spring is released and the creature is caught in a trap. Now that’s a table in full view of your enemies it’s called a mousetrap. Nibble what God sets at your own risk. I’ll set my own table and I’ll stay out of my enemy’s way.
You anoint my head with oil;
My drink is abundant.
I had to look up what “anoint” means. It means “to smear or rub with oil or an oily substance.” I guess getting your head smeared with oil was a good thing when this was written. Why would anyone want that today? I saw a Saturday Night Live skit once where it talks about Great Black Inventions. It shows a black car mechanic standing under a car and he pops a gasket or something and oil spills all over his hair. It’s called the invention of the gerry-curl. I guess it was supposed to be funny. That’s what anointing your head with oil makes me think of.
As for my drink being abundant, I never thought that the Bible looked kindly on drinking. Before he left my mother, my father’s drink was abundant.
Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me
all the days of my life.
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for many long years.
I can see why people believe this stuff. I would love to believe that only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me, but I just can’t believe that it’s true. What are you going to say to the shmoe getting mugged. “See that guy with the knife? Yeah, he’s goodness and steadfast love.” That’s sounds good. They’ll stop chasing each other and start hugging. Yeah, right.
I’ve never been pursued by goodness and steadfast love and I’m better off for it. It makes me hungry. I want it more. I see guys, guys who have only known “steadfast love”, and they’re pushovers. They go through life without making effort, just expecting things to work out. They remind me of sheep. I guess they would like this psalm.
Age 55: My back hurts
For a later date.


Sarah Richards

Maggie’s Psalm.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I lack nothing.
I am left with no one now. I guess it is up to the Lord to take care of me now that my mother is gone too. God has given me to a family. They have a big house and I get my own room. They have plenty of food and they buy me new clothes.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me to water in places of repose;
My new room has a bed. In the apartment with my mom I slept on the couch. My mom slept on the fold-up cot. Here they have three bathrooms, all clean with working faucets, and a big kitchen with a working sink and dishwasher. In the apartment with my mom we brushed our teeth using water from the bathtub. The sinks didn’t work and so we couldn’t wash the dishes. That’s okay because we didn’t really have that much food. Beds are overrated and sinks are overrated.
3He renews my life;
He guides me in right paths
as befits His name.
Nothing is the same in this new life. I have a new school, a new family, a new room, and new friends. Everybody wants me to do what they think I should do. I don’t see why I have to go to this new school. I don’t see why I can’t hide under my covers and think about my mother. I don’t care about the right thing to do. I don’t see what was so bad about my old life. Now nobody has the same last name as me. Nobody understands that my life is supposed to be the same as it was before. They can’t make me change.
4Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness,
I fear no harm, for You are with me;
Your rod and your staff-they comfort me.
Almost every night I have to go wake up Janet. I can’t sleep, I think I’m going to die. I feel the pain coming in the back of my head. I don’t want to die like my mother. I can’t tell anyone about this, but I’ve never seen anything so scary or so horrible in my life. She just started talking about the pain in her head, then she was unconscious and wheezing and choking, her eyes were rolling around. I couldn’t wake her up. Now I don’t want to go to sleep. I walk through the darkness of Janet and Bill’s room, all the way around the huge bed to the other side where Janet sleeps. She has to come sleep on the floor in my room. I don’t want to die in there alone.
5You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my drink is abundant.
I have to eat dinner every night with my new family. I don’t really like to spend time with them. They want me to be so different than I was in my old life. I never sat at a big table with my mom to eat dinner, at least not since we lived in my grandmother’s house. If I could eat dinner with my mom and Nanna, that would be fine, but I don’t want to eat with these people. They’re nice to me and I think they want me to join their family. I had a perfectly good family. Just because they’re dead doesn’t mean I can’t like that life better. I sit far at the end of the table, just so my new family knows I don’t belong here. Just because I can have as much food and Sprite as I want doesn’t mean this place is better.
6Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me
all the days of my life.
I hear my new family say that they love each other. Sometimes they say that they love me. I don’t really know how that works. My mom never said that. I can’t say that to them. I don’t know if I love anybody. If I love anybody, it’s my mom and my grandma. I never told them I loved them because they didn’t say it to me. Now if I start saying it to these people, it’s like I love them more than my mom. I don’t think I can say that.
I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
for many long years.
I don’t know how long I’m going to have to live in this house. I don’t like living here. Nothing is the same. Nothing is the way it’s supposed to be. I miss my mom and I hate it here. I don’t want to live in this house.


Rachel Greenberger

The LORD is my Shepherd; I lack nothing.
My red Game Boy is all I need. It’s brand new. I can tune everyone out and pretend that I can conquer the world. I like to play World Cup Soccer IV. I can win because I’m really good.My Game Boy is red, too. It’s really not mine. It’s my cousin’s, but I won’t share it, even with him. I want to play it all day long. I’m going to lie up here on his bed and play Pokemon. You can’t get me down from here. I don’t have to listen.
I’m not going to listen either. I’ll sit outside in my red chair. You can’t tell me what to do. I’m not moving. Who cares about mosquitoes? Not me. I’m in charge of me. I hate you. Go away. Leave me alone.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
Let me get up and run. Why do I have to sit here? You can’t stop me. Let me run to my soccer field and play. Then I can kick the ball right at you. Watch me lie here and ignore you.
I’m busy with Pokemon. I can hear you if I want, but I’m gonna lie here in the green grass with my head in my arm. I won’t look at you. Maybe if you look away, I can run off. Then you’ll have to find me. It’s a game, just like Pokemon.
I don’t like games so, don’t worry, I won’t run off. I just want to stay here and sit. Me in my red chair, alone, without you, thinking.
He leads me to water in places of repose;
I love the lake. Watch me splash you. I can try to dunk you. I’m stronger than you cause I play soccer.
What a fun game! Chase me in, I’m not coming out. No one will be my buddy, except my cousin. Sometimes I like to play in the sand; the other kids sometimes let me. It’s a game to try to get me to come out of the water. I win; you have to get wet! Ha, Ha. Don’t get frustrated, I’ll just go in deeper. I’m a good swimmer. You can’t catch me. I’m a fish. I can be anything. Swimming is my favorite time of day.
Mine too. Maybe I’ll even get up from my chair. I like to swim with my friends, but I don’t want to go today.
He renews my life .
You thought they would help and make everything okay. I hate the little white pills. I change. I’m not the same. Don’t you like who I am without the stupid medicine? No, it doesn’t make me better.Time for another game. You catch me and make me take the medicine. Fun, fun. I don’t want a sticker. Watch me run. Come and find me. You play too. You do medicine with me.
I always take my medicine. I know how important it is, but I still just want to go home.
He guides me in right paths.
Come on, look watch, I can be a leader. Look at my group of friends. We all play soccer together. We never lose. We’re so tough. Let’s see who we can make cry today.
Time for another game. Come on, let’s race. I can run faster up the hill than you. Don’t try to beat me. I’ll sit down. You got ahead. I give up. Where is my cousin? He’s my only friend. He lets me use his Game Boy. Too tired. Too tired to walk anymore. Can’t move. Tune you out. Silence. Head in arm. I don’t want to get up from my chair. Don’t even show me the path. I’ll go when I’m ready.
What do you mean it’s not safe or fair? What about me? What’s fair to me? Who decides what’s fair? I hate my friends; they’re not my real friends. Their moms said they had to be my friends, because my life is hard. They don’t understand anyway, all of their families are healthy and alive. Fine, I’ll walk but then when we get there, I’ll just sit. Pretend I don’t exist. Let me be alone. That’s how I feel anyway.
As benefits His Name.
I think I believe in God. Sometimes before a soccer game, I pray that we will win. I know the prayers in the service by heart. I like to sing them. Sometimes, I pray about much bigger things. I ask God to help me read better, to make me stronger so I don’t get beat up anymore. I ask God to make all my family love me like my Grandpa loves me. When I’m really made, I yell at God about those stupid white pills. How come they got invented? Sometimes I feel like God doesn’t care anyway. No matter what, everyday after services comes pill call. That’s why even though I know the prayers I don’t like to go. God must not love me, no one does except my Grandpa.
God, you play game now! Try to catch me. God, come chase me. Can you catch me? Can’t think about God now. Too tired. Too tired. Can’t move. Tune you out. Silence. Head in arm.
God, like my friends always think they know about? What do they know about God? God takes people away, makes people sick, leaves me alone.
Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness I feel no harm, for You are with me.
I can’t feel things when you make me take medicine. Why should I numbly sit and concentrate. I become passive. NO. I WILL NOT! Watch me swear at you. Kick the soccer ball at you. Run away from you. Hit you. I am invincible.
Too tired. Too tired to walk anymore. Sitting. I can tune you out. In my world, there is no pain. Everything is like Pokemon. Can’t move. Tune you out. Silence. Head in arm.
Pain, you don’t know anything about pain! None of them knows pain. It hurts when people leave you. It hurts when everyone thinks you are a little kid, and they lie to you. I may not know a lot, but I know what hurts. But, hey… look at me, PAY ATTENTION TO ME, see me, there is nothing you or anyone can do that can hurt me anymore than I’ve already been hurt. I am alone, no one understands. Everyone lies to protect me, but I am no longer hurt by that. I am alone. I know I am the only one who can hurt me.
Your rod and Your staff comfort me.
I wear your beads on my neck. They are a sign of love, from my brother. If he loves me, then why does he hit me? He’s just playing, making me stronger. I will never take them off. You can’t make me take them off. He told me they would make me strong. He told me that no one could hurt me. He gave me this shirt too. I love this shirt. I can pretend that I’m tough underneath it. Boys are tougher than girls are anyway. I wear it when I play soccer, even though it’s a Packer’s shirt. I can pretend. You won’t be able to tell who I am. I can be hidden without really hiding.
My cousin is my best friend. He helps me. He lets me play his Game Boy. When I’m playing that, I never want to stop. I feel safe. Then I get tired.
I don’t feel safe at all. People leave me, without saying good-bye. That’s why I take the medicine. It makes me feel better. Like when I’m sitting in my chair. I’m in control then and I hope everything will be okay or at least they’ll tell me if they aren’t. When I know they won’t lie to me, everything will be okay. But until then, I’ll sit right here.
You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies;
Thank you, Grandpa. He gets me out of there away from my enemies. Let’s me come here. He’s the first one who gets a letter.
Pokemon. Get ’em. They’re not really enemies. I am my own enemy. My insides are my enemy. I can never get better. I will never fully understand who I am or why I am this way. But, the food is great. I love to eat with lots of salt and pepper. Don’t rush me. I eat to get powered up, like in the game.
I don’t want to eat. Just let me sit here alone and think about how much I miss my Grandpa. The cancer that took him away is my enemy. The enemy has my dad now too. I just sit here in my chair and imagine my enemy. I can see perfectly what is happening, but no one will tell me.
You anoint my head with oil;
I always wear a Packers hat to match my shirt, even when my hair is still wet. This way I can pretend that I’m tough and a boy. I’m such a good soccer player people don’t realize who I really am.
My blond hair just flops around, unless someone remembers my black or red hat. A lot of times my cousin puts it on for me. Maybe, I can get a hat with Pokemon on it to protect me from the enemies.
I lost my hat like I’ve lost everything else. Gone, just like that.
My drink is abundant.
I can chug lemonade faster than you. I get really hot when I play soccer.
I hardly ever remember to drink, please remind me.
I lost my water bottle last week. I have more important things on my mind, but it’s gone just like everything else.
Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me all the days of my life.
Make them love me for who I am and not hurt me.
Make me have friends.
Make them understand, to not lie to me anymore.
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for many long years.
It is safe there and I am loved.
I am perfect.
I do not hurt anymore.


James Grady

The 23rd Psalm is the internal struggle of a French Catholic priest sent to a nazi [1] concentration camp for sheltering six little Jewish children. It is the conflict between denial of God and the understanding of man’s complicity and guilt, in light of the events he is living and the crucifixion of Jesus.
The Lord is my shepherd…. This is my life, spent preaching these words, telling the French peasantry of the salvific miracle, his transforming grace; telling them, at the end, that God would send the evil out of our land, that our shepherd would protect us, though a thousand wolves circled, ravenous. Jesus, our good shepherd–Jesus, our sacrificial lamb. Jesus, who no more wanted to climb mount Golgotha [2] than I wanted to be forced to hide fugitive Jews in my home; but the children, His children…. Me, a man bound by God, facing a God bound by mankind. All that remains of salvation is that we are as guilty as He, and as innocent too.
I shall not want…. But thou shalt not lie. I do want Lord; I want to be free; I want to die and burn, because living in the misery of this place is too much. To have known death so intimately is a burden unbearable. And the loneliness I know in the camps is as dark as the evil. My crime is somewhat unique–not given me by birth, but by charitable love of children. So alone amidst the misery of peoples I can not know. I want to die, and You will not free me, my Lord.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me by still waters; he restoreth my soul…. My soul is lost O Lord, burned up by the flames that have not take my body. No green pastures await me–only the seared landscape of France, or perhaps the merciful kiss of the grave. No still waters call to me, and You, O Lord, do not lead me, but leave me blowing in the wind… cold, cold wind.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake…. Righteousness is gone out of the world, destroyed by the stroke of Your Almighty Hand, Lord. Restore righteousness, God of Love. My soul is a rotten fruit–I trade it for righteousness. I demand Justice.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me: Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me…. I do fear evil. I will always fear evil. And I will never trust. Not You, my God…. My heart cries out that those endless trains are not the rod and the staff of God, but my bleeding hands and feet rebel. My stricken face and pierced side testify against instrument and the Wielder. I share a thorny crown with my God, whose wounds once testified against me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil…. And it is the table of my sacrifice and of the sacrifice how many little children that loved You, even to the end. You purify us in death, that we may be slaughtered like Your proverbial sheep to feed the ravenous hole that is Your appetite for human suffering. Justice, Lord, Justice… where do You hide the Lady that shames You?
My cup runneth over… with the bitter wine of the grapes of wrath, the grapes of pain.
I shall not want…. And I did not want to be a martyr. But I could not have lived with myself if I had to live at the expense of those six beautiful little children given into my care by an ancient Rabbi. I did not want to die with them; rather I wanted them to live with me until a new day dawned and peace was restored. Surely, in Your Goodness, You would save us. But no; my heart died as I watched those fragile lives lose a battle against thirst and sorrow as we were imprisoned, as we waited to be sent to the fatherland, the house of a vengeful God.
Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life…. I have earned my fill, Lord. We all have. But Your wrath knows no bounds. Cease, Hateful Villain. We are finally stricken, smote. Only the hounds, the hounds of Hell, are at my heels.
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever…. But, alas, my heart knows the truth, that we are both guilty and innocent, as are You. How can I blame… even rage and indignation are dead in me. My God, You weep for me by an empty bedside; and I should weep for you, God, sitting, waiting all alone for the creature You have forsaken in grief. Oh Lord! Can we never be reconciled, can I never come home? Oh, that I could die today and lie down in my bed, in Your presence and Your house,, and be comforted and loved. But first we must forgive each other. We have both murdered, hopes and dreams and people, too, perhaps. Murder is an ancient crime, and hard to forget….
Hail Mary, full of Grace,
The lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus Christ.
Holy Mary, Mother of God –poor wretched, destined to forever watch your son and salvation crucified by humanity,
–poor wretch, destined to forever watch your little beloved children stuck down by the divine instrument
pray for us innocent sinners now and at the blessed hour of our deaths .
Oh, blessed Mary, the truly innocent feel your love and your sorrow, oppressed by God’s blessing. Tortured by being His chosen. Oh Blessed protector of my heart–you whom God punishes with His true Love–you could not pray your son off the cross, and you cannot pray us out of this valley of deepest darkness. Your punishment exceeds all others–you, God’s faithful handmaiden, pray that He will end the suffering of Your son and all of the little children, knowing that He will not answer. And yet you pray and trust no less for it.
Love is the price you must pay,
Trust that will be broken is our lot,
When He will accept our supplications
Is a matter for the ages–only pain
And love can endure the long darkness.

[1] As a matter of practice, I will capitalize the names of individuals and any term or phrase, such as the Name, the Face, Him, You, etc., used to refer to the Divinity. Words that refer to general, universal principles, such as Evil, Good, Justice, etc., will be capitalized, while the same words used as adjectives in phrases, such as criminal justice, universal principles, etc., will not be capitalized. The names of places and peoples will also be capitalized. The names of political units and events will not be capitalized–they are simply tools, for Good or for Evil, and not distinct entities.
[2] In the story of Christianity, this hill, Golgotha, is the reported site of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.