Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of religion…

When I pray with God, I start out with words.

“Hello, God.”

He responds in words.

“Hi, Will.”

Picture of Grand Canyon

We get right down to business. The words start happening immediately. The back-and-forth turns rapid. If I am fortunate, it quickly proceeds to fundamental principles about which little more can be said, and yet, if I am blessed, transmission continues in both directions.

My cup runneth over. Words prove extraneous, so we stop talking, letting the echoes of our words trail off into the distance; they bounce off vast canyon walls until we are listening only to the unfiltered silence that has grown there now like a flower sprung from a crack in sheer rock.

In moments like those, religion falls away to the ground far below. I am not thinking of doctrine, not thinking of dusty laws or gnarled statements of moral principles. Not seeing the faces of my religious leaders in my mind’s eye and worrying about disappointing them or being corrected by them. I am not obsessing over whether Jesus wore white robes or brown ones.

I am not even thinking of Jesus at all. For he is in the same camp as words and doctrines and opinions and symbols, as far as my puny human mind can comprehend. He is a word, he is physical, he is conceptual and well defined, ergo he is not the Ultimate, he is not Transcendence. He may be the way for some — he is for me — but he is not always the destination.

The moment I open my mouth to talk about God, I have already begun throwing objects between myself and him. Now this can be helpful, as when building a rope bridge across a chasm. But if I have crossed that bridge to God and am standing before him, I must let go of my tools and let God take my naked hands.

My memories are faulty, dear friends. So I must build that bridge over and over throughout life. I must read our holy text, I must receive teachings from our worthy leaders, I must fellowship with people who share our doctrines, I must practice the ways and customs of our tradition. This process can be supremely enjoyable and extremely beneficial to my life in the presence of God. These things get me from point A to point Y.

But I don’t get to point Z until I forget the entire rest of the alphabet.

It only lasts for a moment.

May your time with God be like this.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

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.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

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, King James Version

[Image source: Planetside Software]

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2 thoughts on “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of religion…

  1. I think what your describing is intimacy in it rawest, most beautiful form. And I was thinking, it reminded me about how you can measure your level of comfort with a person by whether or not you can sit with them in silence without that twinge of awkwardness. How in the silence, you can feel bonded without saying a word, but just soaking in the closeness of the person. There are very few people I can truly say I can do that with– my brother and I drove from NY to KS once and a lot of that time was spent in silence. Letting the music and the miles wash over us. No awkwardness, but just that wonderful feeling of togetherness.

    Psalm 23 took on new meaning when Josh was in my life. I remember someone has prayed this Scripture over him– that he would find rest in the green pastures. In my mind, it surely meant He would be physically healed. When that wasn’t the case, it took me a long time to accept that God truly did answer that prayer. It’s just the green pastures Josh had been given were more lush, more beautiful, more restful than anything he could have been offered here. Sucks all the same, but I take comfort in knowing He’s experiencing a rest and a peace that I won’t fully understand until I get to Heaven myself.

    Recently, I heard a sermon that explained how shepherds needed to water their flocks near still water because they could drown just by drinking (because their noses are so close to their mouths). Sometimes the shepherd would need to carve out a little pool so the flock could drink safely. And it was such a simple idea, but it brought to light the fact that I am a stupid sheep and I can’t even drink without His help. And God takes care of me. He knows my needs.

    All that to say, beautifully written, Will. Your insight and writing always leaves my heart full.

    • Holly, as always, I am so glad we can connect on these here Internets. I’m glad your heart became full after having read my post here. The best we can ever do for each other is point towards God and say, “Hey, check THAT out!” I try to do just that — even if I do, in my human frailty, point in altogether the wrong direction at times. Sometimes the tragicomedy of life gets it right on our behalf.

      That is a fantastic parable about the sheep and still waters! I never knew that. It sheds so much light on the meaning behind Psalm 23 — and I really dig your interpretation that we are just that helpless without the Lord our shepherd. When we submit and trust, letting our own wills and desires go limp, we get everything we need.

      I absolutely and without one iota of doubt believe that your friend Josh has been completely healed. He has returned to Eden, as it were — an Eden far beyond the wildest of our imaginings, beyond the most exploded exigetical fantasias on Genesis.

      I’m so glad you can have a sacred sort of silence with your brother. I don’t have that with my siblings. And that’s another story. :)

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