The shepherd’s crook and staff
In the past two weeks, two of our sisters have died. We celebrated their lives with stories, prayer, and Eucharistic liturgy. Psalm 23 — the song of praise to the Good Shepherd — was part of both celebrations.
For days, a particular verse of that psalm has taken up residence in my mind and heart: “For your crook and your staff give me comfort.”
I keep wondering what the difference is — from the sheep’s point of view — between the shepherd using the crook and the shepherd using the staff. How does either feel and does do both give comfort?
I imagine — never having been a shepherd — that the staff is used to nudge, to guide, to direct by gentle taps. Perhaps the taps are gently applied in order to keep a straying sheep with the flock, to turn the sheep in a new direction, to turn a sheep or the sheep away from danger. No matter the reason, the action is gentle and firm.
Likewise, I imagine the shepherd’s crook is used in more dramatic situations. Maybe a shepherd’s crook tugs a sheep out of a small ravine. Maybe the shepherd’s crook drags dangerous branches or obstacles out of the flock’s path. Maybe the crook holds at bay an animal likely to prey on the sheep.
If my imaginings have any basis in fact, the actions of both crook and staff would give comfort to the sheep, would provide safety and security.
Naturally, having gotten this far in my reflection these past days, I am quick to see the analogy between me and those sheep. I remember times when God, the Good Shepherd, has both gently tapped me into realizing a better direction, choice or path and those times when it took a little more to get my attention.
No matter how it’s happened, I am grateful to be reminded of the caring presence of our Provident God. I am grateful to be reminded that I and each of us is called to give to others the comfort the Shepherd has so lovingly lavished on us. Whether it’s via a gentle tap or a a sharper pull, let us do it with love.