Though I Walk Through the Valley

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

These were the words spoken by a beloved Parkdale friend as we sat side-by-side on his hospital bed this week, both of our eyes dripping with tears.

These were the words I thought on my way to a funeral of another friend.

These were the words I recited again as I was told about and went to visit yet another Parkdale friend who is in critical condition.

I will never get used to the feeling of death drawing near or of its actual arrival. Though it sometimes takes time to sink in, the eventual reality of it is stark and FULL. What I long for is death to be put to death.

Granted, living in this broken world leaves some people eager for the relief that death will provide. Too many people seem to have the odds stacked against them from the very beginning. On Sunday our service was tangibly marked with the lament of people’s pain. A regular cry was, “Hell is here. I’m living it. Where is hope?” To say my heart was heavy is a blatant understatement.

Dwelling in the valley with my friends deepens my longing for the resurrection of life. I desperately want people who know primarily darkness at the hands of others and/or their own, to see life marked with light. I want the same for me, for all of us.

Through a veil of tears I finish the 23rd Psalm: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Goodness and mercy, please come.

Reawakened to the Resurrection

“I think I need to draw a picture about why Easter makes me sad”. Though she said it quietly, I heard it clearly. I probed a little and realized that her story is grievously not unique. Easter, like Christmas, reminds those who are displaced or estranged from the ones they love, how alone they really are.

I sometimes find the Easter season particularly challenging to navigate at The Dale because of this. Lent, the period of preparation for Easter tends to be solemn and is often when people “give things up”- not uncommonly things like coffee and chocolate. But how do you suggest giving something like that up when surrounded by people just looking for their next meal? Please hear me: I am not suggesting letting something go isn’t a good idea (in the past I too have given up chocolate). When done as intended: to direct our attention back to God, it is an incredible and good tool. I’m just acknowledging that this is one of the ways it gets complicated.

God of course moves despite what bogs me down. I shouldn’t be surprised.

We gathered with two other communities on Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday) to commemorate the last supper of Christ and wash one another’s feet or hands. We started the evening with a potluck that a large number of Dale folks contributed to, whether it was a huge vat of pasta or a box of Digestive Cookies from the dollar store. The evening felt set apart and holy.

On Easter Sunday we spoke of the resurrection of Jesus and what difference it makes in our lives. So many people shared of their gratitude to simply be alive. We talked about looking up at the sky and being struck by how BIG it is. People challenged one another to see the gifts that God has put in their lives, even when by the world’s standards those gifts seem meagre. I shared my sorrow over certain situations in my life and how while I’d love for them to be different, I also recognize God being present in them. We spoke and sang about the hope that we now have because of Easter.

We are slowly and carefully being transformed. One of us used to refuse even shaking another’s hand during our weekly ‘passing of the peace’, today hugs are given. One of us used to spend every day alone in a small rooming house apartment, today every moment possible is spent with a community. One of us continues to struggle with paranoia but considers it safe with The Dale. One of us drew a picture of Easter with such sadness, but is replacing it with a picture of hope. We are being reawakened to the resurrection.