Art: “Psalm 23” by Barbara Thelin Preston, used with artist’s permission

Written by Amy Lenow, retired United Methodist Deacon

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” 

Psalm 23
a painting reflecting on Psalm 23
“Psalm 23” by Barbara Thelin Preston
used with artist’s permission

This beautiful watercolor has had a place of honor in our living room for over 20 years.  With its vivid pops of red, oranges, greens, and blues, it has provided a color wheel for our home decorating palette. It was given to my husband and I by the artist, Barbara Thelin Preston, and artfully framed by her husband Craig Preston. Barbara entitled it Psalm 23. The artwork holds dear memories of painting under her instruction in an incredibly moving art experience she called color veiling.  It reminds me of dinners and get-togethers with the Prestons filled with good food and fabulous laughter.  It helps me recall deep meaningful conversations shared between friends.  But never did it mean as much to me as when I lived a portion of my life within the painting.  Good paintings can do that, you see – they can draw you in and hold you within the brush strokes.  You can feel yourself being surrounded by the vibrancy and the rich meaning the artist evokes on canvas.  It is when I lived within the valley of the shadow of death that the artwork was no longer a two dimensional expression but held me as I walked my difficult journey.

The journey began with a simple invitation for my parents to come live in our home when they were struggling with health issues.  My mother was suffering with advanced kidney failure and my father was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia.  They could no longer do it alone, so they moved in and we sheltered them.  I provided them care for three years as we lived within the valley.  It was an arduous, precious, painful, and grace-filled time.  The painting became like an icon to me as I took great strength from the Psalm to which it pointed.

Psalm 23 is a mainstay in our churches, as we lift up the words at almost every funeral I have attended.  The shepherd imagery is preached and sung about in peaceful and comforting ways.  We lift up the admonishment not to fear, and the bounty of God’s love overflowing, but rarely do we linger in the dark valley. It was when I lived my life in that valley that I realized there was nothing else to do but to walk on.  In the dark times of our life, we can try to go around by ignoring or denying the strain.  We sometimes work to go over the obstacles by masking them with alcohol or pills. We even try to go under by burrowing into ourselves and shutting out God and the rest of the world. The Psalm leads us through the valley.  Lent leads us through the valley as well.  Christ knew the journey he was walking.  He invites us to come with him through his valley of the shadow of death.  It is within the darkness that we feel God’s presence with us.  It is within the valley that we receive God’s comfort.  As we journey again this Lenten season, may we linger in our own valleys.  May we brave walking through the darkness where we encounter our deepest pain and struggles. May we find the presence and comfort of God within our own distress.  And may our journey to the cross lead us to dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Find previous “Picturing God” entries here: