Psalm 23

A Rod, Staff and Oil…


Written by Fiona Monaghan A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Philip Keller was an eye opener for me. Many of us know the Psalm that starts “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want…” and there are references made throughout the Psalm to physical things like rod, staff and oil. Mr. Keller explains how a shepherd would actually use these tools in his vocation and what it means to us.

The Rod was a weapon made from a sapling specially chosen and whittled down to suit the shepherd. The root was used and shaped to fit the shepherd hand. He would use this in a couple of ways. If a sheep was wandering off, as they are prone to do, he would throw down the rod to startle the sheep back to the group. It was used to check the condition of the fleece. Checking the skin by parting the fleece with the rod looking for sores, ticks etc. It was the ultimate protection tool used as a deterrent for predators and beating the bush for snakes etc.

Shepherd's StaffWhereas the rod was protection, the Staff was considered a tool of help or compassion; not for defense, but for rescue. If a newborn lamb got separated from its mother, the shepherd would use the staff to lift it back into proximity of the mother and not put his human scent on it. If he needed to draw an animal back into the fold he could reach out and pull them closer; used to rescue a wayward animal if it got caught in thickets or brambles. Also a means of support for him to lean on and assist his walking and used for guiding sheep on a new path.

The Oil referenced was a healer. It was put on sores or scrapes to prevent infection. Flies would bother the sheep and want to lay eggs in their nose, so the shepherd would put a coating of oil mixture to prevent this. A distraught sheep having to deal with these flies would disrupt a flock so it was very important to treat them by anointing with oil.

It was no mistake that we as a people were referenced as ‘sheep’ and Jesus our Shepherd. Sheep are not the smartest of animals. They tend to follow rather than lead. They are totally defenseless in the proximity of an enemy so need a Shepherd to protect them.

How often have we needed the Oil of healing in His words at a difficult time, or the Rod of correction if we are heading off in a wrong direction or the Staff of comfort when needing to know we are not alone.

Read Psalm 23 with the meanings of these words made clearer. See how this might be useful in your own life.

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A Prayer Meditation

This week, Pastor Becca continued on in our series on Washington Cathedral’s core values. She talked about how Washington Cathedral is a place where anyone and everyone can belong.

By Pastor Becca McCary

The sermon on Sunday was on the Mary Martha story from Luke 10. The challenge to the church was to do the “One thing” Jesus asks: tune our hearts into the presence of Jesus for it is there that we find complete acceptance and belonging. Here is a prayer practice to help teach you to tune your heart to Jesus.


(This is a prayer practice meant to be done with a family member, friend, or someone you trust. One person will lead this prayer by reading this script while the other person or people follow the directions, connecting with God. This is a great way to learn and to listen to God by tuning into God’s presence. Let the person leading this activity read slowly and calmly, giving the person or group time to soak in each phrase you say.)

We are going to do a relaxation prayer practice. It is OK to fall asleep, because we are going to practice a very relaxed prayer. God can speak to us even while we are sleeping. It’s also ok to use your imagination to help you connect to God during this prayer too. So if I ask you to imagine God, think creatively… imagining what God looks like, feels like to hug, or even smells like. Our main goal is to be calm and relaxed as we recognize God’s presence with us.

This prayer practice is based on the following verse:  “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10

Close your eyes. Relax and get comfortable. Feel the way your body sits in the chair or on the floor and re-adjust as you need.

Take a deep breath in, feeling the air fill your lungs. Now slowly release your breath, letting any worry or tension leave with the exhaled air. Slowly breathe in remembering God’s love for you. And slowly breathe out any anxiety you might be feeling. Take a deep breath remembering that God is offering you peace. And slowly exhale as you become more and more focused on relaxing.

Continue to breathe normally as you feel comfortable.

Let any distractions around you wash away. As distracting thoughts or questions come into your mind, picture yourself taking hold of those thoughts with your hand and then putting it in a jar with a lid for later. Then return to your relaxed, focused state. Hear God’s voice calling you deeper into his presence as you continue to breathe deeply.

Let your body slowly relax more and more as you realize God’s complete love for you. Like waves of relaxation rushing over your body, feel your face relaxing. Your jaw muscles loosening, your tongue becoming still and heavier, and the stress wrinkles on your forehead loosening up.

Remember that there is nothing you can do to make God love you any more or any less. So even in this moment of complete stillness, God loves you and fully embraces you.

As your neck muscles loosen, your shoulders dropping down, imagine God’s hand gently resting on your shoulder, communicating God’s gentle, warm presence. Can you feel his large, warm hand resting on your shoulder? Maybe God is sitting beside you with His arm around you, or maybe God is standing in front of you, gently placing His hand on your shoulder.

Can you see the warmth and love in God’s eyes as He looks at you? God designed you; He made you; and He is so happy to have your attention right now. And even as you imagine God looking at you with compassion and love, remember that God really is here with us. The bible says “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.” The Bible tells us that “God is love.” So any moment that you’ve ever felt fully or deeply loved, draw on that to know that God loves you like that, and even more so right now. You can be completely at home in God’s presence.

Continue to breathe deeply as your back and stomach relax… letting the relaxation flow down to your legs and even into your feet. Feel yourself firmly but comfortably rooted to the floor or chair.

Now as you sit completely relaxed from head to toe, picture some place in nature that is beautiful. Maybe it is a camp site you visited once with your family… Maybe it is a hike you took with friends… or maybe it is some special place you have made up completely in your imagination. How does the air feel on your skin? Is it damp and cold or is it warm and dry? Is the sun shining? Can you feel the air on your skin? Are there tall trees? Grainy sand? Picture the specific place in your mind. As you sit in this peaceful, beautiful spot, hear the words from Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd;     I have all that I need.

 When I am in God’s presence I am perfectly content because I know that he loves me just as I am and is offering me perfect peace.

He lets me rest in green meadows;     he leads me beside peaceful streams.

Can you hear the water flowing?

    He renews my strength.  

I feel the tiredness and stress in my body leave as I totally relax in God’s presence.

He guides me along right paths,     bringing honor to his name.

 God shows me what he wants for me and reveals good ways to live. There is no stress or guess work in following Jesus because God speaks to me, continually guiding me in where I should go.

Even when I walk     through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid,     for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff     protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me     in the presence of my enemies.

No Matter what I face, I can trust you to care for me.

You honor me by anointing my head with oil.     My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me     all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

And as you continue to breathe deeply, enjoying God’s peaceful presence, I’m going to count back from five as you slowly come back to a more awake state. Five, your breathing becomes a little bit less deep. Four, your fingers begin to move around a bit more. Three, you can feel your toes start to move now too. Two, your eyes open. One, you’re sitting back up.

How did that feel? Have you done something like that before? Were you able to picture God? Were you able to feel what it is like to be in God’s loving presence? Was anything hard about it? The more practice we get “being still and knowing that he is God” the easier it becomes to sense God throughout our entire day.

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