Yea, though I walk through the valley of shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me. - Psalm 23:4 KJV
When I was in forth grade we performed the 23rd Psalm for chapel and each the students was assigned one verse to memorize and recite in order.
I was assigned the above verse, about the valley of the shadow of death. In the coming years of my life, I would significantly appreciate its protection, because I've prayed it under my breath a multitude of times.
If we think about what the "valley of the shadow of death" might look like, it can conjure a plethora of morbid images, but the one that come to my mind is simple:
It's complete darkness.
Where there is no light. Where you can't see your hand in front of your face, or the step you take before you. There's no compass and no map. Essentially, you're walking around in the danger zone, blind.
Complete darkness is interesting. Yogis say that when you've been in compete, isolated darkness for three days straight, the pineal glad in the brain begins to flood the brain with the neurotransmitter melatonin, which is what's released to help us sleep. After about a week, the pineal glad produces DMT and you'll go on a psychedelic journey. DMT is a naturally occurring substance in the human body, but is most widely known as the substance in the shamanic plant medicine of Ayahuasca.
I've never had the urge to go on a darkness retreat, or take Ayahuasca, although I curiously ask friends about their journeys. The theme there, seems to be to plunge into the darkness to find the light.
In my life, I'd rather not seek out the darkness, but because we are human darkness comes to us with its many faces - addiction, depression, pain, disorder, sorrow, grief, loss . . .
So how do we walk through our valley of shadow without fear?
First, we will fear because it's a natural human emotion. The difference is God's bigger than our fears and can give us peace in the midst of our dark times.
Second, what comes to mind is a photo lab where my dad worked when my brother and I were little kids. I remember there was a black tube, with a sliding door. We could step inside and the tube would swivel 180 degrees opening up into the photo lab, which was, of course, in compete darkness.
I remember my brother and I swirling in the tube, one after another, and trying to find each other by whispering in the pitch darkness, trying to scare each other by sneaking up along the wall. The reality was that neither of us got more than a few feet into the room because we were both scaredy cats. To this day, I can still remember the feeling of sliding the door open and being greeted by complete darkness.
The room was specifically designed this way, to let no light in. Light, you see, is the nemesis of photo development. The photo process is sensitive to light and can ruin the development of the photos.
As I thought about the dark room that my brother and I were always excited and a little scared of, I realized that the dark times in our lives are like that pitch-black darkroom. They can serve as the space where we develop as a person.
Without complete darkness there would be no photographs. The dark times aren't fun, but they can mold and develop us into someone that emerges from the darkness, like a warrior coming out of battle, with our sword held high.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil for thou art with me.
If you're in a dark time, ask God for protection, for peace, for love, rest, for anything you might need. And know that the darkness is not meant to destroy you, but to make you stronger, to develop the picture of your best self.
*This blog & audio first appeared on zzoccolante.com