Friday, February 25, 2022

The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster

Valley: We don’t always know how to talk about grief, struggle, or pain. We don’t have vocabulary. We don’t have enough understanding. We can’t shape it into sentences. It’s raw. Unprocessed. Beyond words.

For me the poets help. The ancient poetry of Psalm 23 gives us this word valley. “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Instinctively we understand. We might not have been there ourselves but we get it. We feel it. We sense it. It’s down there. A rift. A canyon. A gap. Even when we sense that the word valley is simply a metaphor, we intuitively know it implies something not just emotional, but tactile—a physically embodied response, a gut reaction.

In the poem itself there are very few words between Psalm 23’s “green pastures” and “valley of shadow” and I understand why. Life can turn on a dime. And we know the valley because we’ve been to the green pastures, and we are grateful for the green pastures, because we’ve been to the valley. We need the valley because it is shorthand for the times when we are weary, when we are filled with fear, when we are on the edge, when we are immersed in the night of grief. If Psalm 23 had no valley, I don’t think it’d be so beloved. The presence of the valley in Psalm 23 offers us a common vocabulary to express what is inexpressible.

Praying the Alphabet
God of Vista and Valley,
the vulnerability of human life
puts us on the verge of tears,
the vast unknown unfolding in our midst.
We see that you are the vine and we are the branches,
ever tethered to you, never vanishing from your sight.
Visit us. Make visible your love.
Give us the vitality of your spirit.