Scripture Text: Psalm 23 (KJV)
23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 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. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 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, KJV)
Most of us can say this Psalm in our sleep. We love the pastoral images of the shepherd. We love the restoring still waters. We love the table set and prepared for us. But verse 4…”Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” Right there in the middle of all this pastoral light is a bit of darkness. It’s a hard verse. We know that we will walk through darkness. We know that we all encounter the shadow of death, the pall that hangs over us when a loved one dies or when one’s death is imminent. Because the truth is, we were not promised that life would not be hard or hold losses; we were promised that we would not walk it alone and that Light would be on the other side.
This wilderness season of Lent is a season of shadows. During this time, we walk through the shadow of the Cross, the shadow of death, and, even, the shadow of our former selves. Maybe that’s the point of Lent–to wrestle us away from our comfortable, perfectly-manicured lives, from all those things that we plan and perceive, from all those things that we hide and, finally, teach us to traverse the nuances that the journey holds. But think about something. What exactly creates shadows? The answer is light. Light must be behind the shadowed object. So, the shadow of the Cross, the shadow of death, even the shadow of our former selves cannot be without the Light illuminating it.
This season of Lent is one that by its very nature is a journey through wilderness, through loss and despair and doubt and not really knowing what comes next. It is a journey through a place where all of a sudden God is not as God should be. No longer is God a freshly cleaned-up deity handing out three cotton candy wishes to faithful followers. In the wilderness, we find God in the trenches and in the silence of our lives. Or maybe it is that this is the place that we finally notice God at all. When our lives are emptied out, when our needs and our deepest emotions are exposed, is the time that a lot of us realize that God was there all along. Maybe Lent is way of getting to the depths of ourselves, the place where in our search for God, we find our faith in God, and there in the silence we find our hope and our Light.
In her book, When God is Silent, Barbara Brown Taylor tells “a story from the Sufi tradition about a man who cried, “Allah! Allah!” until his lips became sweet with the sound. A skeptic who heard him said, “Well! I have heard you calling out but where is the answer to your prayer? Have you ever gotten a response?” The man had no answer to that. Sadly, he abandoned his prayers and went to sleep. In his dreams, he saw his soul guide, walking toward him through a garden. “Why did you stop praising?” the saint asked him. “Because I never heard anything back,” the man said. “This longing you voice IS the return message,” the guide told him. The grief you cry out from draws you toward union. Your pure sadness that wants help is the secret cup.”
Life is filled with shadows, places that you did not plan to go, places that scare you and challenge you, places that are filled with pain. But God did not call us to walk through blinding Light. God called us to learn to see. Maybe the shadows help us do that. Maybe the shadows are the reason we see the Light. And the Light will show us the way.
To live with the conscious knowledge of the shadow of uncertainty, with the knowledge that disaster or tragedy could strike at any time; to be afraid and to know and acknowledge your fear, and still to live creatively and with unstinting love: that is to live with grace. (Peter Abrahams)
Grace and Peace,