That’s the name of a hymn we often sing at Mass; it turns out it was written by a Lutheran, which is ironic because I wasn’t familiar with it until attending a Catholic church. The Lutheran church we were members of sang very old, heavy German hymns to organ accompaniment. This particular song draws me in every time with its simple folk tune combined with moving lyrics: Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.
Mass today was profound for me, if not a little weird. By weird, I mean that as I stared at the stained glass of the Holy Spirit dove behind the statue of Jesus, I saw the silhouette of a giant spider. It had to have been a tarantula, but it was bigger than any tarantula I have ever seen. It was extremely bizarre — I wondered if anyone else had seen it, but the people appeared to be focused on the priest and his sermon. Obviously, I have ADD and can’t ever entirely focus…. I imagined for a moment that I was in a horror film and away my mind flew!
Sometimes, though, God knows when I need to listen and catches my attention. The spider disappeared, by the way. I saw its long legs slide across the glass one last time, and then it went…who knows? We’ve been deluged with rain lately, including last night. That’s the rational response to why a tarantula would have climbed that high up on a church building. It was apparently trying to dry out.
But let me back up a little. The liturgical readings today included Jeremiah 23, in which the prophet is delivering woe to the false shepherds leading God’s people away from him and into destruction; Psalm 23, in which David reassures us that God himself is a good shepherd who will not lead his people astray; Ephesians 2, wherein Paul is explaining to the Ephesian church that Jesus has reconciled the lost sheep to God through his sacrifice; Mark 6, in which Jesus disembarks from a ship and sees a vast crowd of people as sheep without a shepherd and begins to teach them. And lastly, here is the responsorial verse (from John 10): My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow me.
In the liturgy, the Bible selections are read directly before the sermon. Honestly, I’m not blaming a giant spider for trying to distract me from the message; I can do that just as easily on my own. The spider did distract me for a minute, though, before God called my attention back. He’s my shepherd; that’s why he calls me back when he needs to teach me something. The message this morning was on giving our time to God. I’ve been feeling guilty about my time-hording ways lately. In fact, I wrote a comment on this post about my need for an abundance mindset with time because I’m stingy with it (I’m linking to it because the whole post is good and you should read it). It’s difficult for me to view time as abundant. At the same time (there’s that word again), It’s what I value more than anything. What humans view as scarce becomes precious to them. But God is not like that; he created billions of humans he considers precious and worth saving. And he will without fail give them his time if they call on him. I suppose you’ll remind me now that God operates outside of time. True…but when Jesus was here, he existed in time, and he gave it to either people or his heavenly Father no matter how worn he was. The gospel passage today makes that clear.
The priest repeated his message about our need to trust God and give him our time — he wanted to drive it home. No doubt, this simple message needs to be pounded into obtuse people who set their own plans in their own way and fail to spend any time listening to their Good Shepherd. It’s no wonder I struggle and spin my wheels even when I add a daily prayer and Bible readings to my checklist. God is not a box to be checked off on our lists of daily accomplishments. He wants us to enter into his rest from the busyness of our lives, to dwell in his presence. To change animal metaphors a little, God wants us to curl up at his feet like my puppies curl up at mine. My dogs have trust and devotion to me for no rational reason that I can make out. I’m a far cry from a good shepherd, and yet they trust me implicitly. It’s humbling, to be honest. I suppose my kids did at one time, too, when they were little instead of grown or nearly so, as they are now. And yet, I can hardly put a modicum of my faith in a perfect shepherd. A mustard seed. Just a mustard seed worth of faith is enough, but I rarely manage that.
On the way to the altar this morning, the congregation sang the song I opened this post with. Oh, how prescient that song is for me. Shepherd me, O God beyond my wants… But my wants are everything to me, aren’t they? I want to use my time stacking up my accomplishments: writing books and speaking Spanish and playing the accordion and getting at least a couple more degrees. And to what purpose? So I can be proud that I did all these amazing things, which, as it turns out, are quite commonplace? Accomplishments without purpose are useless to the world. And I have a feeling that my accomplishments will continue to be useless unless I allow God to shepherd me past them as my ultimate goal.