Friday, May 11, 2012

A Flock of Shepherds

In my last parish, the sanctuary boasted a gorgeous Tiffany glass shepherd window with a nice, clean anglo Jesus, cradling a nice clean lamb in his arms. I would guess that the same image is present in one form or another in the vast majority of churches throughout the world.
From high art to swapmeet kitsch, from icons to paintings to stained glass windows to the illustrations in Sunday School curricula, the shepherd image as a metaphor for the way in which God in Christ cares for humanity, has imprinted itself on the deepest level of the Christian imagination.

In the most recent issue of Liturgy, guest editor David Gambrell offers a sort of “Psalm 23 through the ages.” It is a fascinating glimpse at the various ways in which the church has read this most popular of psalms at various points since the invention of the printing press.  
In order to offer a glimpse of the rich variety of psalm traditions through Christian history, the following pages present a roughly chronological sampling of translations and musical settings of the well-known ‘‘Shepherd Psalm,’’ Psalm 23. Following this psalm through the ages, one gets a sense of the musical trajectories that have shaped its use in liturgical song—from plain chant to metered settings, from unison to harmony, from responsorial arrangements to strophic hymns. This sampling also suggests a range of non- musical uses of the psalms—as a Bible lesson or devotional poetry, and in unison or responsive reading by the congregation. The texts represented here vary widely in their relation to the biblical text—from strict translations, to close paraphrases, to looser adaptations. Finally, watch the subtle variations in wording that have shaded the meaning of this psalm for generations of worshipers; pay special attention to what God does for the psalmist’s soul (convert, restore, reclaim, revive), the ‘‘valley of the shadow of death’’ (KJV), the language around anointing and the cup, and the final phrase of the psalm.

What is your own personal favorite iteration of the 23rd Psalm?

David Gambrell (2012): Following the Shepherd Psalm through the Ages, Liturgy, 27:3, 29.

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