Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me,
Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,
You anoint my head with oil,
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23 v4-6
This post is actually ‘Psalm 23 part 3’. Even if you read parts 1 and 2 last month you may have forgotten them by now. My life – and consequently my blogging – has been a bit disjointed recently, with adjusting to both Jessa’s and Sam’s departures and the inevitable after-effects. But well done if you have kept up! I’m not sure if I have… but I am hanging on through the ups and downs, reacting badly to too much pressure and then recovering – continuing to encounter the kindness of God, still wanting to share the journey in all its raw reality and hope and finding that writing – even about the silly things – really does help.
There are also some great promises to hold on to in the Bible. I am not very good at sticking with daily readings at the best of times and usually just have to return to things when I can, without beating myself up too much for lack of discipline. But among others, Frederick Buechner’s book ‘Listening to your life’ lies on my table for such moments, open somewhere in July. His first meditation on David’s most famous song was I shall not want (really?) and I posted Part 2 as Paths of trust. I like the way he comes at the familiar verses from a different angle, examining what the well-known words really mean in practice. It’s refreshing and encouraging, not because he uses soothing platitudes or clichès – he doesn’t – but because he exposes the pain in life instead of avoiding it, asking the difficult questions without shrinking back. There is no pretence in his exposition of the truth – which can sometimes happen in the name of ‘faith’ when it becomes confused with ‘positive thinking’!
Well, perhaps I am drawn to such honest writers and teachers more these days; perhaps when you have not been through deep suffering yourself, or engaged with it meaningfully in the world around us, they can seem rather ‘miserable’ and ‘negative’. Nothing could be further from the truth: surely our faith was given to us for such times as these! So here is Buechner’s ‘part 3’ – with some photos of ‘sky’ contributed by me as a wordless commentary… because what more can you say when faced with the reality of death confronted by the faith that it has been overcome?
‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil’. The psalm does not pretend that evil and death do not exist. Terrible things happen, and they happen to good people as well as to bad people. Even the paths of righteousness lead through the valley of the shadow. Death lies ahead for all of us, saints and sinners alike, and for all the ones we love. The psalmist doesn’t try to explain evil. He doesn’t try to minimise evil. He simply says he will not fear evil. For all the power that evil has, it does not have the power to make him afraid…
If the Lord is indeed our Shepherd, then everything goes topsy-turvy. Losing becomes finding and crying becomes laughing. The last become first and the weak become strong. Instead of life being done in by death in the end, as we always supposed, death is done in finally by life in the end. If the Lord is our host at the great feast, then the sky is the limit’
Frederick Buechner, Listening to your life, p180, 181.