09 October 2008

Walking in the Midst of the Shadow of Death

Like most people, I learned Psalm 23 (22 in the LXX) as a small child. There are differences in the reading between the Masoretic and Septuagint texts, but that mainly deals with Eucharistic foreshadowing. The line that I am thinking of today is simply this:

For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they have comforted me.

To walk in the midst of the shadow of death is a somewhat interesting phrase. I've heard it commonly exegeted to mean living one's life, which culminates in death. I suppose I accepted that as the common, and therefore the manifest, reading for a long time. Something I've been considering since becoming Orthodox, however, is that Death has no power over us. In a profound way, we no longer die--for the Lord has conquered death, and set us free from captivity to it. We do not--at least, Christians do not--experience Sheol/Hades as the dismal gloominess of disembodied captivity. We experience life from the source of Life, in the person of the Risen Christ.

Given this, what might it mean to walk in the midst of the shadow of death?

Frankly, the world is filled with the shadow of death. Sin, which damages and darkens us, separates us from God; not in the way that is commonly taught, but it impairs our ability to be in communion with God, which is our original purpose in creation. Lacking that, we begin to fear death, and because of the fear of death, we sin. The world is filled with the misery of the shadow of death.

Yet, we are not to fear the evil that results from it, for the Lord is with us. Lately, I've been drowning in my own personal shadows of death. Like the Prophet and King, St. David, I find myself saying in my meditations: As for transgressions, who will understand them? From my secret sins cleanse me, and from those of others spare Thy servant. If they have not dominion over me, then blameless shall I be, and I shall be cleansed from great sin. (Psalm 18, LXX). At the moment, it feels like my secret sins have dominion over me. But if that is the case, it is because I have ignored the staff of our great shepherd; now, I must submit to the rod of his correction if I am to find any comfort.

This well-known line from what is, arguable, the most well-known Psalm, is, then, not merely an inspirational thought. It is a warning, a call to repentance, and an exposition of the need for Confession.

Have mercy on me, Thy unprofitable servant, O Lord.

Pax vobiscum+


Anonymous said...

Great stuff here....

It's easy for us to fall into the trap, while walking in the world (the shadow of death) to say "Thank God I am in the Church"....rather, we must be reminded of our own precarious situation at all times.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that perspective of the Psalm. The Shepherd's rod of correction is a comfort since God disciplines those He loves. We are all unworthy and in need of mercy. I admire your humility.

The Hermit said...

I don't know too much about humility...except in the most theoretical terms. Thanks for stopping by, Todd. I'm glad you enjoyed one of my little rambles :)