The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-charge Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

The spiritual life is sometimes understood to be a love affair with God. Those who may have read the love poems of St. John of the Cross know him to be truly in love. St. Teresa of Avila too was often in ecstasy because of the infusion of love into her life by the Spirit. Even ordinary people like us can have a love relationship with God. As we enter into stillness with God, and relax as if sharing a love seat together, the warmth of the Spirit assures us that God is present. We are not alone. The Mystery of God that is unknown is somehow present with us. The Eternal is with us in the moment.

A beloved psalm that expresses this assurance is Psalm 23. In some churches this psalm accompanies a Gospel lesson that portrays Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The psalm in itself can be a love song and is sometimes paraphrased to make that connection sing with words. Nan Merrill expresses it so well:

"O my Beloved. You are my shepherd, I shall not want; You bring me to green pastures for rest and lead me beside still waters renewing my spirit; You restore my soul. You lead me in the path of goodness to follow Love's way.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow and of death, I am not afraid; For you are ever with me; your rod and your staff they guide me, they give me strength and comfort.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of all my fears; you bless me with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the heart of the Beloved forever."

The twenty-third psalm is undoubtedly the most beloved hymn of the Hebrew Scriptures. In its simple lyric imagery it faces the dark and lurking foes that have troubled people in every generation. At the same time it fully remembers life's delights and God's unceasing care for us. Although we must suffer pain and inevitably go through the valley of death, God's goodness and mercy will be with us all the days of our life, and we will dwell in God's radiance forever.

The Bible does not promise us any exemptions from sickness, suffering, or temptation. The Bible is realistic, showing us human life as it is: "Human beings are born to trouble just as sparks fly upward," says Job. (Job 5:7) But while we suffer affliction, disease, and find ourselves bound up in destructive behavior, we still remain under God's ultimate protection. God continues to comfort and console. St. Paul calls God the "God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction." (II Cor. 1:3-4) And Jesus says, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30) While we might wish a promise that we won't have to suffer, we do suffer pain, but God bears it with us. God enters into it and takes it upon himself.

In your own quiet time, rest in that place where the goodness and mercy of God are felt. You can pray, "O my beloved, You are my shepherd, I shall not want." "You lead me in the path of goodness to follow Love's way." "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the heart of the Beloved forever." We are all meant to become lovers.