I walked the woods again tonight, on a beautiful summer’s evening when the evening light was just begging to be visited. I felt drawn to my favourite hidden valley, a place of streams and waterfalls and kingfishers, of rich greens and deer lapping at the water’s edge.
The binoculars were slung over my shoulders: this was ostensibly a birding expedition. But in reality it was time out to work through the events of a long day, of good and bad, joy and pain, music and tears.
But tonight, the valley was already cast in shadows. It was dark and gloomy and uninviting. The little winding path was overgrown. The stream was a series of stagnant pools, too low to flow over the waterfalls. The stepping stones, half-hidden under towering bracken, had become a trap for the unwary.
Tonight, it felt like the valley of the shadow of death.
Higher up the slope, the evening light struck enticingly through the woods. Deer crashed away through the glowing trees. The upper reaches of the wood were bathed in full, glorious sunshine. The sky above me was clear blue.
I’d taken the wrong path, chosen the wrong route.
Suddenly I am stopped in my tracks. A thrush, unseen in the canopy above, is singing. No, not just singing, almost shrieking with joy. A series of ecstatic trills and fine, careless rapture cuts through the breezeless silence.
The sound of the valley of the shadow of death is not only weeping, but it is also singing. I heard some of both this afternoon, young women sobbing as they saw what age and illness can do to people you love; the old and infirm gathering to sing hymns from their hospital wheelchairs. “All my hope on God is founded,” they sang in clear, strong voices from their broken bodies. The preacher reminded them what courage it took to pray the Lord’s prayer and actually mean it. “Your will be done” cost Jesus his life, after all.
The valley of the shadow of death can never be a happy place, I don’t think, although so many find its embrace a merciful one in the end. But it should never be a place of fear or of hopelessness. There is always sunshine on the slopes above and the joyful, joyous song of the ages ringing through the darkness.