23RD PSALM ROTATION — OVERVIEW
Familiar, classic psalm of “trust in the divine shepherd,” who leads his people through danger to security. (from
footnote in the New Oxford Annotated Bible.)
Spring (April/May) Year B
WORKSHOPS & ACTIVITIES:
Arts (sheep mobile), Music (learn a song), Games (obstacle course), Drama (short play, ‘Shep, the good Shepherd’), Kitchen (Green Fields Buffet Table), Computer (create illuminated poem in the style of William Blake’s ‘The Shepherd’ or ‘the Lamb,’) or use Cal & Marty’s Scripture Memory Game from Sunday Software.
SOURCE TEXT: Psalm 23. READ THIS.
AFTER STORYTIME IN CHURCH, ALL AGE GROUPS WILL START TOGETHER FOR GATHERING TIME. THEN LEADERS WILL LEAVE WITH SCHEDULED GROUP
FOR THEIR WORKSHOPS.
BACKGROUND NOTES (& OTHER NEAT INFO):
This psalm is generally thought to take the persona or narrative voice of David who was, of course, a shepherd. It takes the
point of view, however, of the sheep.
More about David.
The story of David the young shepherd begins in around 1 Samuel 16.
Shepherd & sheep trivia.
(Trivia section taken mainly from Kirk of Kildare lesson set at www.rotaton.org )
• Were not wealthy
• Worked long hard hours
• Lived in the fields with the sheep; spent all their time outdoors, rain or shine
• Were sometimes old, sometimes young
• Protected their sheep from wild animals
• Made sure their sheep had enough food and water.
• Used oil on the sheep’s wounds to keep them from getting infected.
• Used a rod to protect the sheep and to discipline the sheep (prod and nudge to get them going the right way!)
• Used the staff to lift, pull, grab hold of the sheep.
• Will aimlessly wander anywhere – don’t really watch where they are going
• Need to be led to food and water
• Will drink anything – even bad/brackish water or other toxic liquids if thirsty
• Are very vulnerable to attack from wild animals – don’t have means to defend themselves
• Sheep need to have cuts, injuries taken care of as infection seems to set in and easily kill the sheep. Sheep are
not as hardy as other farm animals.
• References that you might find useful in gathering additional information for your storytelling experience:
• A Shepherd Looks at the Psalm 23, W. Phillip Keller, Zondervan Gifts ISBN 0310977762.
• Harper’s Encyclopedia of Bible Life, 3d rev. ed. (New York: Harper and Row 1978)
CONSOLATION OF TRANSLATION.
Just for fun check out the phrasing in different Bible versions see which one appeals to you more. For example, here’s
sampling of first three or so verses.
New King James Version:
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul.
The Young Women of Faith Bible (New International Version):
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
The New Jerusalem Bible:
Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
In grassy meadows he lets me lie.
By tranquil streams he leads me
to restore my spirit.
Good News Bible:
The Lord is my shepherd:
I have everything I need.
He lets me rest in fields of green grass
and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water.
He gives me new strength.
The King James Version:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures he leadeth me beside the still water
FRYE ON SHEEP & SHEPHERDS
Canadian writer and scholar Northop Frye has some edifying, at times funny, references to the symbol of the sheep in the Bible.
The following quotations are from Biblical and Classical Myths by Frye and Jay MacPherson (Toronto: U of T Press,
2004), the first from p. 47:
“The Bible invariably uses the sheep as he typical apocalyptic or ideal animal. I suggested in one of my books that
the reason for that is that sheep societies are perhaps more like human societies than any other animal: because the sheep
is gregarious, stupid and easily stampeded. It is consequently the appropriate animal to describe in pastoral metaphors –
words like “pastor” and “flock” still survive in language about the Church.”
And this one from p. 60:
“Disputes between a farmer and a shepherd are thousands of years older than the Bible. They go back to Sumerian times,
but usually in Sumerian times it’s the farmer who has the best of the argument, as would be very natural for a country
that’s dependent entirely on irrigation and is primarily an agricultural country. But in the Old Testament, the original
pastoral relationship of wandering herds is idealized as the time when Israel was united with its God, ad we find that idealizing
of the pastoral life in the 23rd Psalm, in the imagery of the Good Shepherd attached to Christ, and elsewhere.”
IN THE ARTS
INCOMPARABLE ART WITH POETRY.
English poet and painter William Blake captures some of the aforementioned idealization in his collection, Songs of Innocence.
In this collection from 1789, Blake rendered his poems as ‘illuminated’ plates. The poems and graphics were created
as reproduced as copperplate engravings with hand-done colour washes. Blake’s illuminated poem, “The Lamb, (Little
Lamb, who made thee?/Dost thou know who made thee?...)” is perhaps one of his better known works of this type. Click
here to see a sample. Here for text of this poem. (Scroll almost to end of page.)
A related poem that goes perfectly with our topic is “The Shepherd,” also from Blake’s illustrated book,
Songs of Innocence. Click here for the colour plate. Here is the text of the this poem:
The Shepherd by William Blake
How sweet is the Shepherd's sweet lot!
From the morn to the evening he strays;
He shall follows his sheep all the day,
And his tongue shall be filled with praise.
For he hears the lamb's innocent call,
And he hears the ewe's tender reply;
He is watchful while they are in peace,
For they know when their Shepherd is nigh.
There’s tons more information on the poet and his art on The William Blake Page.
Canadian poet and singer/ songwriter Leonard Cohen has receive a lot of air time in recent years for his song, “Hallelujah.”
The first verse assumes the persona of David, harpist/lyricist/psalmist become king:
Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
There are many covers of this song. The one I like best is by Canadian singer k.d. lang on her cd .
Try to hear a copy of this by downloading off iTunes or Limewire.
Another song worth noting is 'The Valley' by Canadian singer/songwriter Jane Siberry. It's also on lang's '49th parallel album.
A very nice and interesting take on our beloved psalm.
AMAZING INFO ON THE AIRWAVES.
An internet search turned up this incredible public radio program via WGBH Boston, from the radio show, “Sound and Spirit.”
There an staggering amount of Ps. 23 info in this show. Many versions of the psalm put to music, ranging from attempts at
what the 6-line Hebrew poem might have originally sounded like to Handel, to Emmy Lou Harris to various American spiritual
arrangements. I love the conclusion of the interview with scholar Joel Rosenberg, where host Ellen Kushner offers the observation
that the psalm has become the shrine. I’m feeling a sculture workshop coming on!
The source link for the show includes a playlist for all music used. Here’s the link. Scroll about half way down the
page to find it under ‘Lord is my Shepherd.’ Run and listen to the show as you prepare for your time with the
kids. Absolutely awesome.
The Lord is my shepherd radio program listing.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What are some things God gives us to refresh us?
2. A good shepherd leads the sheep along the path to green pastures and still waters. The sheep don’t always follow.
Name some examples of not so great paths.
3. To say this psalm emphasizes the idea that God never lets anything undesirable happen to us would be to think like a sheep.
Suggest another meaning for this psalm. (Something like, give it up, admit you’re lost and know you’ll be welcome
back at home. Hmmm, where have I heard that lately...?!)
FOR ALL WORKSHOPS – IN REAL TIME WITH THE CHILDREN…
1. Have them retell what they remember about the story they are studying. See how much more they remember each week.
2. Explain how your workshop connects to the story.
ARTS WORKSHOP – SHEEP MOBILE
ACTIVITY – MAKE A MAINLY VERTICAL MOBILE TO REINFORCE KEY IMAGES IN THIS PSALM.
MATERIAL: 18 inch dowel or stick, 8 lengths of yarn, whie drawing paper, markers, scissors, hole punch, quilt batting, black
construction paper scraps.
INSTRUCTIONS: Have the children draw about 3 main images from this poem – ie sheep, tree, sun, water, shepherd, rod,
staff, table, cup, house. Cut around these shapes, Punch hole in top and bottom of all but lowest image, which will need only
a top hole. String these together, then to centre of main stick. Make two fluffy sheep to hang off each end. Glue black const.
paper circles for eyes and sticks for leg to clump of batting. Tie yarn around neck section to make head, then attach to ends
of mobile. Tie one more yarn length to each end of pole for hanging up as door or wall decoration.
MUSIC – SONG.
ACTIVITY – TEACH AND LEARN A PS. 23 SONG. WILL HELP CHILDREN REMEMBER VERSES OF THIS PSALM.
MATERIAL. Keyboard or guitar if you wish. Brush up on the tune for traditional song, ‘The Water is Wide.’
We adapted words to the Psalm to the tune for ‘The Water is Wide.’ James Taylor and Jane Siberry have good versions
of this song in their collections. I think you can also find this on Roger McGuinn’s Folk Den…let’s see…yep,
here it is with lyrics, guitar chords and mp3 sample:
Water is Wide on Folk Den.
You can use our adaption, printed below. Or try making up your own adaptation to other tunes. Scarborough Fair, Greensleeves,
even Lord of the Dance, show promise for this. We liked the Water is Wide, because it’s a little wistful, but not to
Here are our lyrics:
The Lord’s my shepherd
I’ll not want
He brings me to
The greenest fields
He leads me to
The clearest streams
Restores my soul,
Restores my soul.
And even when
I must go through
A valley dark
I’m not afraid.
For you’re with me
You rod and staff
They comfort me,
They comfort me.
You set a table
Just for me
In front of all
My head with oil
My tiny cup
Things good and kind
Shall always follow me
And I shall dwell
In your house, o Lord,
My whole life through
My whole life through.
GAMES – OBSTACLE COURSE
ACTIVITY – GO THROUGH AN OBSTACLE COURSE TO REMEMBER THE PART ABOUT THE DARK VALLEY IN THE PSALM
MATERIAL: Simple classroom type objects, such as chairs, bean bags, balls, skipping rope, etc. Clock or stopwatch.
You can do this as teams or as individuals. The fastest team or person thru the Dark Valley obstacle course clearly has the
good shepherd on his or her side.
Stations could include wiggling under chairs, jump rope 20 times, toss beanbags into a box, crawl under a blanket or tarp,
leap frog…be creative with your stations!
ANOTHER GAME – VARIATION OF ‘MINEFIELD’.
My daughter suggest adapting this Brownie game. Make 2 teams. Create a minefield on the floor with shoes, or whatever, leaving
a subtle path to other side of room. Each team takes turns have a blindfolded sheep be guided thru the minefield by the voice
of a good shepherd. First team to get someone thru wins. Could rename this game, ‘The Good Shepherd.’
DRAMA – short play, ‘Shep, the Good Shepherd.’
Here’s a short script for 2 longer speaking parts, 2 short parts, 1 silent but significant and a crowd, er, flock. See
script for prop and costume suggestions.
Good Shepherd script.
KITCHEN – GREEN FIELDS BUFFET TABLE.
ACTIVITY: SET OUT A BUFFET TABLE OF VEG AND FRUIT DISHES TO REMIND YOUR CONGREGATION ABOUT THE BOUNTIFUL TABLE TO SHEPHERD
SETS BEFORE THE SHEEP IN THIS PSALM.
BUFFET IDEAS. Sheep like grass, so it might be fun to stick to fruits and veg for this banquet. You can put out chopped veg
like broccoli, cauliflower, red and green pepper strips, how about a pumpernickel round with spinach dip. For fruit lovers,
try strawberries, pineapple, melon, apple and pear slices, and various dips such as yogurt, even chocolate.
Invite the congregation to your Green Fields Buffet Table. Before lunch, maybe your class could perform the song everyone
worked up in the music lab. Or even the Good Shepherd play.
COMPUTER – ILLUMINATED PSALM
ACTIVITY – CREATE AN ILLUMINATED VERSION OF PSALM 23 IN THE STYLE OF WILLIAM BLAKE BY TYPING IN AND PRINTING OUT THE
TEXT TO THE PSALM, THEN STICKING ON TO A WAX AND WATERCOLOUR BACKDROP.
William Blake created his illuminated books by engraving the integrated art and lines of poetry on to copperplate, then applying
a colour wash by hand. (See In the arts section above for links to samples of his art).
I have used oversize sheets of paper, about 11 x 17. Tack a scrap paper sheet as a spacekeeper in the middle of your poster
page. You will design your border around the spacekeeper page, and glue the printed out words for your psalm in the centre
A simple technique that mimics the engraver’s craft is one I found on the website for the show Art Attack, called Wax and Watercolour.
Here the children sketch the drawing they want for the border of their poem. Go over the outline heavily with wax crayon.
Then brush water colour paint over the wax to fill in.
Create a masterpiece like William Blake!
**For those who want to expand their library of computer programs, you could use ‘Cal and Marty’s Scripture Memory
Game’ from Sunday Software.
REVU OF WORKSHOPS FROM THE 23RD PSALM 1 ROTATION:
Arts -- make wall hanging style banner of the psalm
Computer -- output psalm text to iron on transfer and iron on to burlap banners.
Garden -- do yard cleanup or design outdoor garden space around your church
Music -- teach and learn a song (done with glockenspiels)
Movie -- view Babe the Pig, and discuss.
For a pdf file with more detail on 23rd Psalm, First Season, click here.