Over the years, I’ve been to several funerals, and one unmistakable characteristic of a funeral is the somber recitation of the 23rd Psalm. Usually the rendition is spoken with a contextual fervor, where the person reading seems to visualize their loved one entering a valley of shadows and fear of death, but in some way surrounded by the protection of God. I would imagine most the people listening also picture their own perceived journey and the courage needed to face death. For me, I do picture a valley of sorts, in the dark of night, surrounded by evil or a perceptible shadow of evil on all sides. The imaginings I have of this lonely and terrible place, are usually replaced of what I think God must be to me. Of course, this is more of a haze than a clear representation of a person, it usually winds up being a focus of anything but a face. However, as we walk the pathway, those things which were once dark, have become illuminated, and what I now see aren’t shadows, but beauty. Those things which I once perceived as an awful exterior of pain and degradation have been shown to me their intrinsic wonder which all at once leads me to realize, I’m seeing things as God sees things. The “Valley of the Shadow of Death” is a real place, believe it or not, which can be found on a road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Once a place of peril, especially for shepherds in David’s time, danger lurked with the animals who preyed on other animals (e.g. lions, cheetahs, and bears), and outlaws posed a threat to those who would shepherd their flocks. David wrote about this place, because of personal knowledge, and because of his relationship with God.
Isn’t this what our lives are supposed to be about, the one true relationship with our creator? In our culture today, we are bombarded with the popular notion of the antiquated ideas of religion mixed with the embrace of science for all important answers. As Bishop Barron, once pointed out, science is something which should be embraced by all, but it doesn’t have the answer to everything, for instance science can’t explain why something is beautiful (To Light a Fire, Barron). Science isn’t meant to help determine why we’re here, but instead, how we are here. Science can’t determine purpose for life, it can’t decipher a meaning from this purpose, it won’t allow for supernatural determinants to be explored except through hypothetical determined to undermine faith, and above all we need philosophy mixed with science to truly come close to the love God wants for all of us.
Why do we need science? Well, I don’t know about everyone else, but with science we can see the depths with which, God has reached in creation of this universe. There is an order, within the perceived chaos, and this order is the rule by which science or nature is governed. Because of this order, theories can be postulated and expounded upon. The theory of relativity by Einstein, although a proven theory, is just what it says, a theory. The Big Bang Theory of the cosmos, discovered by a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaitre, is indicative of our capability in knowing what dependencies we relied upon for our existence. We can calculate the measurable expansion of the universe because of what we know from theories like Lemaitre’s. Of course, I’m not a cosmologist or physicist, but what I know about what we are capable of knowing is, God gave us intelligence, and he so ordered nature to allow us to see his creation and marvel at its simplicity and yet be perplexed at the complexity of what seems so simple. This is God’s gift to each of us, to look up at a tree swaying by an invisible wind, and as we watch the leaves move back and forth, we can know within the tiniest of cells exists God’s very touch. Within the movement of the wind or the puling of the tides, we can see God in everything down to the tiniest of details. These details provide for us, a road map of what our expectations should be in the Living God, know-ability, an ability, if we’re willing to look hard enough and silence our hearts to know what God has done for each of us.
Today, people want the answers presented to them, and work, even decades of research and diligent efforts to find truth are usually too much for the average person to comprehend because of an unwillingness to work hard for answers relevant only to ourselves. This isn’t to say people aren’t willing to work hard, but when there is no certainty of a completion for what we sought, we are inclined to hedge our bets and work on those things which will give us satisfaction through their answers, good or bad. However, within the framework of science, if we take a step back, and we look through the lens of the tool, designed to give us the answers we seek, we find the face of God staring directly at us. Let your deductive reasoning take over and realize the longer we take to see what we’re looking at, the longer we must go without true joy in our lives. I would ask anyone, what scientific discovery wasn’t found by a belief in the Almighty God, and what was gained by turning away from an explanation which can neither be proved nor disproved. Faith alone can possibly save us, but works without faith are as empty as the space a scientist looks into for their search of truth.
Truth isn’t about the final answer, which will solve our most troubling questions, instead, truth is about the journey to love one must take and how their journey was used to express this love to others. A truth in life is, life isn’t fair, life has a way of stepping on us, especially when we’re already down. The truth, however, is much more beautiful; as we seek truth, we find people in their own struggles as well as our own, and when we can will their good above our own, we can find the truth in life very easily. I would venture to say, most people don’t feel rotten when they help another person, and why is this? For faith in God shows us, the reason we feel wonderful, while helping another, is because we allowed the truth of love to enter our lives, and there is no more powerful expression we can give. The truth is, as we give love, we receive love, and as we put people before us, God acknowledges this by the imprint of his likeness in each and every one of our hearts. The journey for truth, is the only requirement which will bring us the answers we need. The prisoner who sits in a cell and relinquishes all control to God, and the time it takes to do this, has started a journey of truth, a journey of redemption through repentance of self. The truth is, this prisoner will be redeemed, but not simply because they asked to be redeemed, but because they had to walk the path presented to them, the path lit by God alone, and a path which was tailor-made for the redemption of their souls. In this path, in this valley of darkness, they have two choices, the first to embrace the truth of God and trust, or to choose themselves and attempt to thwart every evil which comes their way or accept the sin and embrace what is the antithesis of Christ’s light.
After we look through the microscope of science, we must be able to appeal to the part of ourselves which processes what we know with what we don’t know. So, how do we process what we see and hear and learn, with what God intends for us? Simple, the philosophical implications of life, are there to think out what we know, what we don’t know, and how these fit into our recognition of truth. In other words, the truth is knowable, and what it requires of us is the desire to know God, to know this truth as He has lovingly laid before us. I always tell my children, if it seems hard, then the truth is, it is the right path. The acknowledgement of God, and the deduction of what we learn, leads to the interpretation of life as purposeful to the extent we are required for the overall narrative. Since there is no way to know what God’s narrative is for each of us or as a whole, we must rely on what we learn about our surroundings to form a purpose for our lives, the incongruence of life without God becomes abundantly apparent. Look at those who keep trying to live a life without God, what you recognize is an emptiness in action, perception, and goals. The actions are self-motivating and self-adulating, perception of these actions amounts to the need to work harder or not care when goals become unattainable, and above all else, the emptiness of the void left when God is not exalted becomes painfully apparent.
We can deduce, what it is we need in life, by looking around and reading our environment, but this can become a problem, when we fail to read the environment properly because we desire to affect our goals before anything else. We walk the valley of darkness, and fail to recognize, that although we can fight off somethings ourselves, we don’t have the ability to fight off everything, but with the creator of all things, it becomes less a matter of fighting, and more a matter of understanding. This is what my interpretation of the 23rd Psalm is trying to attain for us. Which is to say, we all must walk our own valleys of darkness, and we all must overcome the fear of life as we walk these valleys. It isn’t enough to be cautious or weary of danger, because even with our cognizance at its highest alert, we still won’t see everything, which is up to God to grant us the grace of vision, the vision of all which is unknowable, invisible, and incomprehensible.
Do you walk a valley of the shadow of death? Are you fearful of life and those who might cause it to be shortened by their actions? Are there those points in time, where you fail to admit God’s presence in your life, and in doing so, you recognize the emptiness you feel? This valley you walk, everyone walks it, everyone is fearful of what they don’t know. When I reached a milestone birthday, and took stock of my life up and to that point, and I wasn’t too pleased. I was acknowledging my relevant mortality, but also my fear of death. My fear of the unknown, past this life, was paralyzing. I began to ponder a life after this one, and whether or not it truly existed, and if it did, what must I do to be a part of this life. The truth was, God wasn’t my focus, and until God became central to my life, until I acknowledged the divinity of Jesus himself, I could never truly feel balanced and full of joy. This was what was missing, fear took over parts of my life, because I never put God first. I was absent of joy, because I wanted fear to consume me, although I didn’t know this is what I was doing. I thought my life was going good, and I was fine with how things were, but every now and again, I would feel a twinge of emptiness so consuming, it risked to upset everything I believed in my life to this point. No matter what anyone says, no matter how much they try to believe what they say, their lives are empty without the love of God to fill the spaces and make whole what is broken.
As you traverse the pitfalls of life, and as you get older, you will find less comfort in life choices which have no purpose, you will find less happiness in actions without a Godly purpose, and you will remain unhappy until joy enters your life. Like a plant which needs the sunlight to thrive, if you place it into a dark room, it will continue to wilt and fade until it either dies or is brought back to the light. We are all the plant in need of the light of Christ, we must have this light, and otherwise we make human attempts to find joy on in an ethereal fulfillment. Our valley of darkness will eventually become out tomb, and this tomb carries with it and eternal consequence of a void without the love of God. As we walk this earth, we don’t see God as a person who walks with us, but rather if we step back we are with God in everything we see and do. We are surrounded by the works of God constantly, we are surrounded by the acts of God constantly, and our acknowledgement of these opens the door to joy.
So, when we walk a valley of darkness, what do we need? In other words, when we traverse this life, what do we need to follow in order to find the path and protect us from those enemies, either seen or unseen? We simply need the shepherd, who will find us, protect us, and lead us down the path to an assuredly eternal goal. The goal of eternity is most rightly where we need, but more importantly where we want to be. We must all remember, our lives are in the middle of the narrative, which God has written, and our patience is needed to fully understand what written. As humans we seem to embrace arrogance, and shun wisdom as par for the course, without realizing the patience we find as a virtue isn’t just about dealing with those whom we are aggravated by, but more importantly our patience is a matter to view and watch God’s plan unfold in our own lives.
If we can learn to take a step back, and watch as things unfold in our lives, we will find love in every step of the way, it is sometimes masked in anger, but nevertheless, love’s tool is understanding. This understanding is compassion, and the ability to look through one’s eyes with a lens of compassion is scratching the surface of the essence of what it is God wishes, hopes, and desires for our lives. When we love those people who surround us, good and bad, we begin to feel the depth of God’s love for us. Although unable to fully know this love, until we are joined with God, we can create a semblance of movement in this direction. When we do this, it is as if the shepherd is calling our names, and all we need to do is go to his voice, where we will find care and protection.
I look back on my own troubled times and of my own selfish decisions, I reflect on those actions which hurt the people I loved the most, and always lower my head in how my arrogance almost ruined my family. God’s love for me, was like the shepherd wandering the wilderness to find me specifically, God’s care for my soul and for the souls of my family became abundantly apparent. God beckoned me to come back to him, and when I made this choice, I had to traverse the scorched land which I burned through my egotistical actions. All the while, fixing what I broke, it was painful for me, but the pain is what I needed to heal. I won’t say I’m perfect by any stretch of my imagination, I still have a lot of ground to cover before the day I can embrace Jesus. However, what I will say is this, my life has become so much the richer for wanting God’s love in my life. My joy abounds in everything I do, even when I choose to become upset, I can see my fault and although sometimes I don’t want to give up my anger, my love for the person and for God, almost wills that I let my anger go. If you are at the point in your wilderness or you know someone who is, where the voice of God seems distant or non-existent, I challenge you to be silent, really listen to God’s voice. Cardinal Sarah remarked, God’s voice is to be found in the silence of our hearts. When we can be silent, even though we wander in the wilderness, God’s voice will come through softly at first, but then as a trumpet when we know what we are listening for. I pray that God will bless you and your family, he will deliver you from the wilderness, or those whom you love from their self-imposed exile. God’s blessings send us forth!!!
God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!!!