Shepherd on Horseback: Guarding Against Fear and Hopelessness

 

horseback shepherd shee cowboy trail crop DSC_0122When I was a child we received official government pamphlets in the mail that frightened me. They showed red circles, like ripples, over a map of a city. The closer you lived to the center of the circles the more likely you would die from the inevitable nuclear holocaust about to be dropped on our northern Canadian city.

“It’s because of the oil and pipelines,” I heard the adults say. “They make us a target.”

I remember what it was like to be raised in an atmosphere of fear by a generation scarred by memories of WWII and The Depression. I was a powerless child who felt responsible for stopping the bomb. I was part of the generation who could not trust authority because, after all, it was “the good guys” who dropped the bomb the first time. There was no hope for the world. As young adults we sought escape in self-indulgent sexual activity and recreational drugs. We questioned the wisdom of bringing children into such a world.

The great world-ending event never happened in my parent’s lifetime — not that it couldn’t have happened, but it didn’t. Thus far it has not happened in mine, nor in my adult children’s. In fact, we enjoy a higher standard of living than my parents or grandparents did.

When I read about the history of various faith movements that went off the rails after a generation or two, the same factors keep showing up: the exploitation of power, and fear of the end of the world — situations where people cast aside discernment and agreed to rash actions because of the “extenuating circumstances.”

This morning I read a poll asking for people’s reactions to the impending end of the world due to climate change and the carbon mess my admittedly self-focussed generation brought down upon our heads. The poll gave these options. Essentially they were:

1) We will soon be doomed.  2) We’re doomed now.  3) Maybe the people who created the problem could be trusted to fix it? 4) Never mind. We’re doomed.

I listen to my grandchildren who tell me, with desperation in their voices, that their teachers say the world will end in twelve years because of carbon emissions and plastic pollution. A young friend talked about the “immorality” of giving birth to another generation born to certain death.

I recognize the same net that held me captive for so many years: fear.

The reasons for concern could be true. The reasons for hopelessness are not.

If we fail to consult the Creator, who understands his creation much better than we do, we are left feeling like the helpless children of the sixties reading the red circle pamphlets. They were burdened with responsibility without authority. When we try to solve the problem all by ourselves, we are like shepherd-less sheep each wandering off right into the danger we fear most. Our debriefing sessions, if we live long enough to schedule them, include the phrase, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Fear and hopelessness were the weapons the enemy of my soul used to manipulate my actions and willingness to surrender power for most of my life. I see him tripping up this generation in the same way. Fear manipulates their thinking to the point where many see no future for themselves or the children they will not allow to be born – even if those children, like many generations before them, carry solutions their parents could not envision.

The Good Shepherd has resources the sheep do not have. He is willing to put himself between them and the predator. He is willing to venture into the wilderness to save the one who foolishly got him/herself into a terrible mess of brambles. Like the shepherd on horseback I saw on the Cowboy Trail last week, he is near — and he is good.

Psalm 23 was written by a King, and former shepherd, who found himself in a terrible mess of his own making. He recognizes another option to the trajectory his foolishness started: 5) Turn to God and trust in his ways.

The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd.
I always have more than enough.
 
He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love.
His tracks take me to an oasis of peace, the quiet brook of bliss.
 
That’s where he restores and revives my life.
He opens before me pathways to God’s pleasure
and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness
so that I can bring honor to his name….

…So why would I fear the future?
For your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life…

(Psalm 23:1-3, 6a The Passion Translation)

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To the Ponds

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He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still and quiet waters.
(Psalm 23:2 Amplified)

I once considered joining a volunteer online group. They seemed to eager to accept me, then told me that attendance in person was required at monthly meetings at various locations. The closest meeting was in Vancouver. I said I couldn’t afford to fly and driving, especially in the winter, was not practical. The leader of the group responded that she looked at a map and Vancouver was not that far from where I live in the Kootenays in south east British Columbia. It shouldn’t take more than 3 hours.

Well, maybe — if you had a straight road with no speed limit like the Autobahn. It’s actually a ten hour drive in perfect weather with no construction, and more like a two day drive for me, considering the way I stop for photos and restrooms. I tried to explain mountain topology to her. We have really big hills and really deep valleys and a lot of going-around-the-mountain curves, but she had already decided I was exaggerating the amount of time it took and that I would not be a good candidate.

Whew. That rejection was a relief. I agreed that I was not a good fit and wished her well.

I thought of that incident when I drove that route recently. Ice and snow were not problems this time, but wildfire smoke was. I was tired and my eyes and throat burned. As we dropped into the valley where Castlegar is situated at the convergence of the Columbia and Kootenay rivers, I decided I needed a break and some place to walk around. This town needed exploring beyond the usual pit stop gas stations and fast food restaurants just off the highway. I headed in a direction down a street that was new to me. When I saw a sign that said “To the Ponds” I followed it.

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Wow! I never knew this place existed. I’ve been driving past it for years! In a park on the edge of the wide fast flowing river the land has been sculpted into three current-less pools surrounded by sandy beaches, green lawns, and flower beds. I wandered around and read a sign that told the story of the town and the large number of people who drowned trying to cross the river at this point as they rushed to the Wildhorse Creek goldrush very close to where I live. If I remember correctly (and I admit my memory for numbers is poor) 86 people died in that season.

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Now here, beside the place where so many had died in the rapids, was a place of rest. Here in this deep valley where I would soon be on that steep road climbing out the other side, three pools of still water beckoned me to come aside and be refreshed.

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I memorized the twenty-third Psalm for a choral speech arts competition when I was in elementary school, when the Bible could still be taught as literature important to our understanding of cultural references. I remember Miss Brown directing our classroom group, mouthing the words and alternately speeding up and stretching out the words with hand gestures.

He leadeth me beside the stiiill waaaters…

I thought about Miss Brown and the rich heritage she gave us. I was thankful, all these years later as I rested beside the still waters in the valley that had seen so much death. I thought about my life and the faith journey that is taking me through another scary valley involving doctor’s appointments and scans and procedures and trying different medications that only seem make life more complicated.

In the midst of the rush to get home I felt the Lord showing me that he has prepared a place of refreshment right here in the middle of my valley. Yes, the rapids still roar, but the water diverted from that river fills the first pool and it’s overflow fills the second, and the third. In the middle of stressful days I can come to Him, my shepherd, my pastor, and let him lead me to a place of peace he has prepared in advance. I can stop rushing and striving and be still in my soul.

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Psalm 23 is a warring psalm that teaches us that rest and trust is a mighty weapon against the enemy that comes to steal, kill, and destroy. There is gold on the other side of this valley.

Even though I walk through the [sunless] valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me.

Feasting

Valley
Valley

Sometimes the best way through the valley is through the valley.

That’s where the feast is kept.

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.

(Psalm 23: 4,5 New Living version)

Green Pastures

Photos: Green Pastures along the Burmis Road

I happened to have this song playing in the car as I drove the Burmis Road to Castle Mountain the other day. It reminds me of The Vicar of Dibley re-runs (which I love) and the beautiful green fields of the UK (which I also love), so it seemed entirely appropriate. I rolled down the windows and sang along.