Creation Care, Psalm 23, and the Restoration of our Souls
Jeanyne B. Slettom
Children who spend significant time outdoors feel a spiritual connection to the Earth and come to believe that a higher power created the world. Awe of creation apparently leads to awareness of and awe for its Creator.
Children who spend a lot of time outside often experience feelings of peace, awe, wonder, and a sense of belonging in nature. They have a deep appreciation for beauty and order, thus by extension, balance, symmetry and color. Nature nurtures curiosity, creativity, and imagination. Not surprisingly, children who feel this spiritual connection to nature also believe they have a role to play in caring for and protecting the Earth.
So if it works to Earth’s advantage for us to have this connection, then it makes sense that God, who calls us to Earth stewardship, would dazzle us with sunsets, calm us with ocean waves, delight us with birdsong, and treat our senses to a biodiversity that stuns us with its complexity and beauty.
It makes sense, too, then, that God would lead us to “still waters,” to “green pastures,” to places that encourage rest, that replenish us, and restore our souls (Psalm 23). God leads us away from our engineered and built environment and into the natural world of pasture lands and still water. God leads us to places that cultivate wonder, creativity, imagination, and connection.
There are many reasons that Psalm 23 has had such staying power through the centuries. Here’s one: You’ll notice that in the first verses, God is in the subject position. It is God who leads us to green pastures, to still waters, to restorative places. But when we get to the verses about dark valleys, the subject position shifts to the psalmist: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley . . .”
In other words, that’s not where God leads us, but it is where life experiences can take us. The dark valleys aren’t God’s plan for us or God testing us. Sometimes we make choices that lead us to dark valleys. Sometimes we are thrown into dark valleys by historical forces beyond our control—like climate change, economic recession, the actions of other people . . . or pandemic.
However it happens, when we come to dark valleys—and we all do—this psalm is a reminder to trust in God’s presence. With eloquent simplicity, the psalmist states with conviction that God is with us.
God prepares a table for us in midst of our troubles. In other words, God nourishes us and replenishes us every step of the way. God leads us to still waters when that is possible, but when it comes to dark valleys, God doesn’t say, “meet you on the other side.” God walks beside us in life’s chaos, offering a rod and a staff to help get us through.
In these days of polarization and pandemic, the valley seems narrow and the shadows deep. But Psalm, 23 gives us at least two ways forward. First, it reminds us that God is not waiting for us on the other side. God is accompanying us each step of the way, through each part of the day. Second, it reminds us (as children do) that creation serves many purposes, not the least of which is to awaken wonder, to calm our minds, and to restore our souls.