Shadows are such a natural part of life, we don’t think much about them. Where there is light, there are shadows. Maybe you remember the science experiments in school when you’d put an object in the line of light and observe how that object blocked the light, creating a shadow of the object.
Shadows create interest and dimension in art. I’m not an artist, but I certainly notice how one dimensional a painting is without shadows. Shadowing creates depth and definition in a picture.
Although shadows are a natural phenomenon, we sometimes depict shadows as something sinister (as a dark place where evil resides) or the undesirable side of someone’s personality (as in Jungian psychology).
The psalmist offers another yet another perspective for shadows; a place of security, safety, and reprieve from the life’s penetrating rays. This psalm has been a source of great comfort for me many times, under a variety of circumstances throughout my life. It is also fitting that this psalm surfaces during Lent which also corresponds with my period of grief.
You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,*
will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.’
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
Because you have made the Lord your refuge,*
the Most High your dwelling-place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honour them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation (Psalm 91).
This passage does NOT say is that those who are faithful and who are ardent believers will be delivered from all the trouble and trauma that may assault us side of eternity. None of us are immune from challenges, conflict, or even change. Our faith may help equip us in coping, but it will not remove us from the crucible. This psalm reminds us that the safest place is to abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my brother this week. I can only surmise what led to his decision to ultimately take his life. Was there no more shadow, but only opaqueness? I don’t know and catch myself trying to make sense of something that just is. Shadows, by nature, must have light, but opaqueness is the absence of all light. It makes me incredibly sad to think that he saw no light whatsoever in his circumstances. But there’s also a part of me that completely understands.
Being deep in the shadows can feel like opaqueness. But if I can learn to abide in the shadow – seeking refuge and shelter in the shadow of the Almighty – as I move through my grief or whatever assails me, I know the light will shift and I will no longer be in the shadow.
Lent is an old word for spring, as the daylight lengthens and the shadows shorten. Just as we move from night to day in our daily journey, so we move from shadow to light in our life journey. What I’m learning in the midst of grief is that shadows are places of refuge and strongholds of safety … especially when I abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
Photo: NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has delivered a glorious view of Saturn, taken while the spacecraft was in Saturn’s shadow.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute