Psalm 23, known by its familiar refrain, “The Lord is My Shepherd,” is among the most beloved in the Book of Psalms. The psalm portrays the Lord as a loving shepherd whose presence is promised for one who “walks through the valley of the shadow of doubt.” Because praying this psalm brings comfort and hope, no doubt that’s the reason why it is used more than any other psalm at funerals. When people experience grief and loss, they find solace and encouragement in Psalm 23.
For Fr. Michael Joncas, a Catholic priest and composer, Psalm 23 was the inspiration he was looking for to write a song in response to the current pandemic. Joncas said, “’Shelter Me’ is my attempt as a church composer to find God’s presence even in these fraught times. Based on the beloved Psalm 23, my paraphrase adapts the psalmist’s sentiments to respond to our present anxieties.” While it normally might take Fr. Joncas weeks to compose a new hymn, “Shelter Me” took only hours.
Perhaps the best-known song composed by Fr. Joncas is “On Eagle’s Wings.” That song, based on Psalm 91, is also popular at funerals for many of the same reasons as Psalm 23. Singing “On Eagle’s Wings” (and praying Psalm 91) brings comfort and consolation. As pointed out in a recent article in Commonweal, Psalm 91 is known as the Song of Plagues because of the protection it offers the psalmist: “You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon.”
All of this tells us that the Book of Psalms is one of the best go-to sources in these days of anxiety and uncertainty. When we can’t find the words to pray, the Psalms provide them. Whether we need to lament, to express our grief or our anger, or whether we need assurance of God’s loving protection, we can count on the Psalms to give us the words.
This Sunday, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday, we will sing Psalm 23, and we will also sing “Shelter Me,” the song written by Fr. Michael Joncas. You can hear a children’s choir singing this song by clicking here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0HtIDdY-fM
The words to the song appear below:
Shepherd and sheep, my God and I:
to fresh green fields you led my steps in days gone by.
You gave me rest by quiet springs
and filled my soul with peace your loving presence brings.
REFRAIN: O shelter me, O shelter me:
The way ahead is dark and difficult to see.
O shelter me, O shelter me:
All will be well if only you will shelter me.
- Yet now I tread a diff’rent way;
Death dogs my path with stealthy steps from day to day.
I cannot find your peaceful place
But dwell in dreary darkness, longing for your face.
- I will look back in days to come
and realize your faithfulness has led me home.
Within your house I’ll find my peace,
trusting that in your mercy you have sheltered me.
[Copyright 2020. The Jan Michael Joncas Trust. All rights reserved.]