Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil -- Psalm 23
What’s all this animosity between people who live in the valleys and those who live in the mountains? What’s that all about?
I remember watching the movie Deliverance (Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds). Several friends went up into the mountains to enjoy a little canoeing and a little R&R. The Mountain Men in the hills were anything but hospitable; violence ensued.
Then there’s the old camp-song (One Tin Soldier) where it is valley people who are depicted as faithless, feckless wonders who cheat on spouses, steal from friends, storm the mountain to grab “the treasure buried there,” and turning over a stone discover: “’Peace on earth’ is all it said.”
There is a passage of scripture where the psalmist speaks of another valley, the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” through which all of us will someday walk. What’s his response?
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow … I shall fear no evil.” (Why not?) “For thou art with me.”
I like the “thou”. Where “you” is modern Standard English, “thou” is intimate, thou is personal.
I also prefer to drop the phrase “of death” because I believe we face many shadows in life, not just the shadow of death. There is the shadow of our past that would keep most sane people from ever running for public office, even though we expect those who do run to be squeaky-clean. How’s that working for us, eh?
Many of us walk through the shadows of a past we’d like to shut the door on, or an economic uncertainty that terrifies us, or longevity of life where bodies fail and memories fade.
Life is certainly not for the timid. Walking through the valley of the shadow, it’s nice having a companion who promises to always be there “no matter what.”
I once saw a cartoon drawing of a great, hairy beast of a man, something like Mongo (Blazing Saddles) wearing a tattered, well-worn hat, a leather vest about two sizes too small for his mountainous torso, a massive spike-studded club, captioned: “I shall fear no evil, for I’m the meanest son of a gun in the valley.”
One of the things I’ve learned over the years, however, is that serenity does not require a tough hombre. Our comfort is not to be found in the iron we pack, nor the spikes in which we’ve wrapped our clubs. No, our comfort is found in walking the valley with someone else; we do not walk it alone, but with others.
We may not have all the tools we need at our disposal, but we have some, and our neighbors have some, and their neighbors have yet others. Walking the valley of the shadow together, we get to share our experience, strength, and hope with one another – and that gives us great comfort. Nothing’s forever new.
We find ourselves walking through a valley through which the prevailing winds are fear and greed. When we’re scared, we often look for people and situations to blame. When there is money to be made, we often forget all we learned in kindergarten and seek to “get ours” while the getting’s good.
God of the Bible, however, teaches us “a more excellent” way.
Walk with him, he says, and we shall not want. God knows where the grass is green and the waters are still. Just as we’re ready to take a break, God stops and says, “Here’s a good place to rest,” and then stands watch for lions and tigers and bears (oh my) so that we might lie down in peace and security.
No earthly power will give us that; no army that ever marched, no navy that ever sailed, no brokerage house that ever traded stocks and bonds will ever give us that. No house filled with guns and ammo will ever truly give us that.
There once was a Stone covered with the blood of all human violence and upon whom was written: Peace on Earth. He gives Peace, that we may know serenity. We’ll find his name written on the hearts of many here in this, our valley (and in the mountains, too). In the words of the Big Book, May you find him now.