Saturday, July 21, 2012

God's Presence In the Valley of the Shadow of the Ax

Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil.
- Psalm 23

There is a difference between "the valley of death" and "the Valley of the Shadow of Death." "There is something," writes Howard Thurman, "which seems more deeply sinister about the Valley of the Shadow." (Thurman, Howard Thurman: Essential Writings, 85) 

In the Valley of the Shadow there is the sense of something bad about to come, of impending danger. The Valley of the Shadow is a place, and experience, of threat. Thurman writes: "It is the war of nerves which life seems to be waging. The ax does not fall. I do not see the ax but always there is squarely across my path, the Shadow of the Ax... Fear of this quality seems completely destructive." (Ib.)

The promise of Psalm 23 is that, as the Shadow of the Ax drapes over the path of life, as I walk on this shadow-casted road, I will fear no evil because God is with me. "His Presence," writes Thurman, "makes the difference, because it cancels out the threatening element of the threat, the evil element of evil... My awareness of God's Presence may sound like magic, it may seem to some to be the merest childhood superstition, but it meets my need and is at once the source of my comfort and the heart of my peace." (Ib.)