Your Rod and Your Staff

Good Shepherd stained glassI love the 23rd Psalm. And lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the verse mentioning the rod and the staff.

I see myself as this well-fed and comfortable sheep, and then I feel a gentle prodding. It’s that Shepherd again, inviting me to move along. Why? I’d fallen into self-absorption, thinking about my problems and having a little pity party.

One translation says, “with your rod and your staff you give me comfort.” It’s not such a comfort when the Shepherd is nudging me along with that rod. Get moving! What are you waiting for?But it’s a loving reminder, full of gentle intention. I wake up from my reverie and take a step forward.

Another translation says, “with your rod and your staff you give me courage.” And I picture a tall staff at the front of the herd. I keep my eyes on the tip of that staff when I can’t see the Shepherd because all these sheep are in my way, bleating.

What are the rods and staffs in my life? The clock can be a rod, booting me into the car, onto the freeway, and helping me embrace my vocation as employee. And a staff? Since I suffer from vertigo, the yellow line down the middle of the neighborhood walking path helps me stay out of other people’s way. If I dig a little deeper, I notice my morning prayer is a staff—something to keep in sight as I amble through my day, bumping into other sheep and apologizing with a noise or a nod.

I hear the ringing of bells as the Shepherd guides our flock across an uneven road. I didn’t notice our bells before, slung on our necks to make it easier for the Shepherd to find us if we wander far afield. It explains how God found me, hiding in this bush, when I thought I was so clever in seeking my own direction. I wasn’t ready to cross that bridge, or so I thought. “You can do this,” the rod behind me seems to say. The prodding doesn’t hurt—well, most of the time.

With God’s rods and staffs, I shall not want.

I need these helps during the trials of life; here comes the shearer.

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Loretta Pehanich is a Catholic freelance writer and the author of 2022: A Book of Grace-Filled Days, Women in Conversation: Stand Up!, and Fleeting Moments: Praying When You Are Too Busy. A spiritual director since 2012, Loretta is trained in giving the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Her involvement in ministry and parish life includes 20 years in small faith-sharing groups and Christian Life Community. Loretta gives retreats and presentations on prayer and women’s spirituality and is commissioned as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. She and her husband Steve have four children and 10 grandchildren.


  1. Here comes the shearer. That made me laugh! This was great!! I often wonder about the meaning of the rod and the staff. Thanks

  2. Thank you SO much, Loretta. I love how your imaginative prayer brings comfort. I especially like the phrase of looking ahead at the Shepherd’s staff. I will remember this beautiful word picture each day. God Bless You and thank you for sharing your writing gift with so many. Have you thought of gathering your reflections into a book? AMDG!

  3. I too love this Psalm. My 53 yr old nephew is in the battle of his life with an inoperable, very large and aggressive cancerous brain tumor. I want to tell him about the healing and comfort this psalm may give him…but, I am reluctant because, although he is Catholic, he is not practicing his faith. I know he and his wife are praying. Perhaps this discussion today will give me the courage to tell him about this beautiful psalm. Thank you for your inspiration.

  4. Loretta, God bless your soul! Meanwhile I was reading; everything became a movie, I was able to see every emotion, every scenario; the bell! even how you ended it, here comes the shearer! I love psalm 23 its gentle and an assurance of our Good Shepherd.
    Your writing was vivid with a hint of humor it brought me a comfort smile to my soul.

  5. Thinking of being the sheep in the bush and being lost is a very comforting thought. Thanks for you wonderful insight.

  6. This morning, as I am praying with the image of our good shepherd, I said the name Abba with a tremble in my voice and realized it sounds very much like a bleat, especially when you repeat it. A–baa. . .

  7. Wonderful imagery. This is a good reminder that small things in our daily lives are able to make remarkable differences.

  8. I love this! Your take on Psalm 23 gives me a new way of looking at it. I love that psalm, too. I particularly like the image of being in the herd following the shepherd but only being able to see the tip of the staff. Been there in my life, for sure!

  9. Loretta,
    Always drawn to your reflections for a number of reasons- I have a courageous daughter named Loretta pursuing a PhD in Theology in Berkley with the Jesuits (with their benign bias against learned female Theologians in the Church,) have spent my career involved in guiding folks towards the joy of philanthropy in support of Jesuit higher education,, have vertigo – bridges as you suggest in your insightful parable are not a particularly welcome experience for me.
    Never really liked the sheep metaphors for the faithful but your re-imagining of the ancients’ words this morning brought the essence of the psalm to life for me – particularly our ‘sheep-like’ behavior and the deeper and more loving guidance of the Shepherd/Creator. Still trying to decide which spirit the shearer is in your story? Many thanks.

    • Wow. Rob. Thank you.
      I say a quick prayer for your daughter,who is less than an hour from where I live.
      I used to work at Bellarmine College Prep as communications director, which was within the philanthropy dept.
      Shout out to Bill Muller, SJ., who was president while I was there.
      When I think of the shearer, I picture the sheep after the sheering: it must be colder; would I be more vulnerable? Every blemish in my skin and shortcoming is now visible with the wool removed (what about the saying, to pull the wool over my eyes? There’s another related metaphor).
      With vertigo, I especially dislike escalators.It’s interesting how something so easy for some sheep is a challenge for others.
      Blessings, Loretta

  10. Yes all good stuff! It is the Shearer I am concerned about! Have I DONE enough, will I be allowed to come into the pen (Heaven) . time draws near… 80yrs could be soon!!! Thanks for the Reflection. A.M.D.G.

  11. This is a beautiful reflection! And it is a great example of finding something new in a well-known text. I also like to look at a variety of translations to try to get a fuller sense of the passage. Thank you!


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