The early Christian community struggled to establish itself amidst many conflicts. Not only were there external threats, but the community was susceptible to internal animosity, bitterness and greed. Yet in the midst of skirmishes and scuffles, as the Acts of the Apostles assures us, the Spirit surged forth in new life and new forms. The Spirit of Christ was continuing to shepherd the community.
Perhaps that is why Psalm 23 is the favorite prayer of many people. "The Lord is my shepherd" is the go-to-psalm when life feels overwhelming, when adversity seems to be crushing our hopes, or when we sense we have lost our way. The images in Psalm 23 are graphic and gripping metaphors of peace. It promises the pleasure of abiding in verdant pastures; the delight of relaxing beside restful waters; the assurance that a table of plenty will be provided amidst our foes.
How do we get there? How do we find that place of tranquility and satisfaction promised by the good shepherd and manifested in the early Christian community? How do we come to experience the peace which Jesus promised?
The answer is revealed in the second line of the psalm – "I shall not want."
The wanting-mind is the cause of so much agitation and misery. By simply observing our mind we will discover that whenever the mind wants something to be different than it is, we suffer and we are miserable. Two conditions provoke this insatiable wanting: when we have something we do not want or when we want something we do not have. Either situation creates a tension in the mind called misery.
When life goes our way and we get what we want, the mind is peaceful. But do not confuse that with the peace which Jesus promised. Yes, the world gives us peace when we get what we want. But Jesus promised a peace which the world cannot give. That is the peace which comes when the wanting in the mind stops before we get what we want.
One of the great insights of the spiritual life is to understand the cause of suffering and how the mind can be free. It all comes down to a simple statement: I shall not want. The cessation of desires in the wanting-mind is a central feature of Easter peace. It is experience as the absence of fear and manifested in a heart that is not troubled.
Fr. Joe Mitchell, CP is the director of the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center in Louisville, KY.