Psalm 23, paraphrased

Psalm 23:1  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 

[2-3] It was 3:00 in the afternoon, the quietest hour of the day. Most people were still at work, while those with night shifts were sensibly in bed. All that penetrated the grungy kitchen window were faint beams of sunlight and the indistinct chatter of children being dropped off by the school bus.

I leaned back in my folding chair at the breakfast table and closed my eyes. Why God? I asked.

The faucet dripped. Dripped. Dripped.

A long sigh, and just for a moment I allowed my mind to empty of thoughts. No worries. No anger. Just my lonely quiet.

I AM, He said, a voice soft as the afternoon sunshine.

[4] Half an hour short of midnight found me walking the two blocks to the bar where I worked. The forgotten streetlights cut deep shadows. I slipped through a narrow alley, its entry guarded by a broken figure lost somewhere in the needle’s dream. The walls on both sides of the alley were dark with age and other things I didn’t care to think about. Behind a dumpster a man and woman were at it. I averted my eyes, only to find myself looking into the leering gaze of a drunken man. He grinned, and wavered toward me on unsteady feet. Our father who art in heaven, I mouthed to myself, hollowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…

Bob greeted me as I entered the bar. “Hey kid,” he grinned, lacking teeth but not sincerity. He was a regular, homeless, living on the small check his son in Chicago sends him monthly. It was too small to feed him, clothe him, or house him, but it was just enough to drink himself slowly to death. I mustered a smile for Bob.

[5] 6:00 A.M. My shift ended, and I walked a block to the small patch of green that passed for a park. I settled on a bench facing the street to watch the world go by, kicking the heels off my tired feet. I sipped coffee from a flimsy paper cup as nightshifters dragged their weary carcasses home and cab drivers woke up to their first cup of joe.

I started on my sandwich about the same time the rain did. I liked rain. It was only a light mist, crowning my hair with moist. But now my sandwich was damp – though the ham was still good, and raindrops collected in the ruts of my coffee’s plastic lid. Umbrellas popped up like mushrooms all along the street. The crowd had shifted to office workers and businessmen with long, self-important strides. Dark suits and dark umbrellas. Like a funeral.

[6] The mission at 27th Street Methodist opened at 7:30. Old, brown brick with tall, narrow windows, designed by someone to instill good old-fashioned religious awe. The marble steps were slippery with rain, though it had stopped a while ago. There was a side door, but I preferred the giant oaken ones, heavy to touch but noiseless on oiled hinges.

From the tall windows inside, painted sunlight dodged pillars and flooded the still sanctuary, though dusk still shrouded the dais. Warm voices drifted up from the basement, where the homeless were now milling about exchanging greetings, and the kitchen staff was bustling frantically. I’ll join them in a moment, but for now I stood in the back pew. A sudden urge grasped me to light a candle for some forgotten one, but here there were no candles to light. I picked up a hymnal instead. It fell open to 437, It Is Well with My Soul. I whispered the words to myself, and they bounced softly from the marble pillars and high ceiling back at me, now colored with light. It was good to be home.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

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