Thursday, April 17, 2008

Walking Through Dark Valleys

Far from a poem merely about the journey toward death, Psalm 23 explores our longing and hope for comfort in the midst of the hostile world. Let’s be clear, the valley of the shadow of death does not just come at the end of our lives. For many of us, we traverse it daily. Here in this community one-third of our members will be traveling through it this coming week as they journey to General Conference.

This longing for comfort in the midst of struggle is not isolated to our own time and place, but is nearly universal to the human experience. Psalm 23 itself arose out of a living place of grief, sorrow and disappointment. The community in which this psalm was born knew what it meant to walk through the valley of the shadow of evil for the lives of the Israelite people had seemingly been perpetually marked by struggle. The very name Israel means, "those who have struggled with God." They struggled for a home that they were always trying to get into, hold onto or get back. They struggled for peace, for food and for a future. Most important, they struggled with God.

A nomadic people, tossed to and fro by the political winds of the region, the Israelites longed for a sense of security, comfort and assurance. They longed for divine guidance and protection in the harsh world in which they lived.

We who live on the margins of both church and society can relate to this feeling, can't we? It seems like our lives are marked by this same sense of struggle and longing for comfort. As we wrestle with our church for the blessing God has given us, we tire, grow weary and can even lose hope. At times, we may feel as though the green pastures and cool streams will never come. Yet, if we remember the promises of Jesus made during the farewell discourse, we understand that the green pasture does not come on the other side of life’s struggles, but rather bubbles up through the cracks of despair, creating moments of comfort, moments of solace, moments of peace even in the very valley of the shadow of evil itself.

For God has promised to accompany us throughout our lives. The key to finding our way home is remembering that even in the valleys of the shadow of death, those green pastures are there…for God has not and will not abandon us.

When we feel like lost sheep, alone and abandoned to the wilderness, God calls us to be still long enough to listen for the voice of our Good Shepherd calling us home through the dark valleys. In the those places of struggle, we must quiet ourselves long enough to discern the presence of the Divine. For even there in the middle of the very valley of the shadow of death, God still goes the road with us to protect and guide, to comfort and provide.

As General Conference approaches, we as a community here at CWM will walk through a dark, dark valley as we watch our denomination debate our very worth. Yet, I hope as we take this journey together we can remember our faith convictions and hold strong to the promise of peace, love and joy that God gives us, a promise that we will find our way out of the wilderness of exclusion and struggle and be brought home to our God.

* The artwork is a painting by Irv Davis entitled Psalm 23 and found at About.Com

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