STJ#1038, The 23rd Psalm (Dedicated To My Mother)

An explosion of ideas and thoughts and tears greet me this morning as I make my way through this hymn. This amazing, loving, gorgeously composed by Bobby McFerrin hymn.

McFerrin recasts one of the most familiar passages in the entire Bible and not only changes “he” language to “she” language and thus re-gendering God, but also personalizes it ways that blur the lines between the divine feminine, the earth, and moms. These changes offer a healing mother image to those who need it, a nurturing divine image, a grounded, grounding image. And a holy image. McFerrin’s tacking on of a Gloria patri at the end is a remarkable bit of theological jujitsu, reminding us that women are holy, God is bigger than any box we can devise, and there is love and comfort in the Mystery.

The Lord is my shepherd, I have all I need,
She makes me lie down in green meadows.
Beside the still waters, She will lead.
She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs,
She leads me in the path of good things,
She fills my heart with songs.

Even though I walk through a dark and dreary land,
There is nothing that can shake me,
She has said She won’t forsake me, I’m in her hand.
She sets a table before me in the presence of my foes,
She anoints my head with oil,
and my cup overflows.

Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me
all the days of my life,
And I will live in Her house,
forever, forever and ever.
Glory be to our Mother and Daughter
and to the Holy of Holies.
As it was in the beginning,
is now and ever shall be
world with out end. Amen.

And that’s just the lyrics. McFerrin’s recitative style here offers some gorgeous harmonies and melodic emphases on phrases we might not notice otherwise. It is ancient and new all at once.

And I’m not sure I’ve heard a congregation sing it, because many people don’t know what to do with a written recitative. It looks odd on the page for those who haven’t encountered it before. So I recommend, at least to start, having a small group or choir sing it with a clear conductor. Oh… and don’t do it as a solo, because that misses the richness of the piece too. It just doesn’t sound the same with a piano in the background.

That being said, it’s still one of my favorites. It’s a gorgeous recasting of a familiar text that can help to reclaim the beauty of this source for those who struggle with their religious pasts. It is also one of the most beautiful, holy pieces of music I’ve ever sung, bringing me to tears every time I sing or hear it.

Amen.

 

3 Comments

  1. Thank you for including the video. It was beautiful, but something way over the heads of our 20 member congregation & 6 voice choir.

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