Jon Foreman’s magnificently understated rendition of the twenty-third psalm flavors the crisp morning air of this apartment in Cape Town, its door swung open to southern African sun and sky. Life-Long-Friends (LLF) John Bernard, Fritz Kling, and I seek shelter here after long and fascinating days among the Pentecost-like throngs that fill the city’s convention center at this epochal Lausanne-inspired gathering of the Global Church. Into that massive hall and the vein-like corridors and meeting spaces that encircle we bring our worship, open hearts, hungry minds, intense conversation, privileged hugs, and that shared life thing that makes everything worthwhile.
Glorious is not too large a word.
Yet this place and this gathering will ever bear a double meaning for this pilgrim and his broken hallelujah. Here, in the Marimba Restaurant that has become my afternoon cave, I received the email that ended Something Important. A quixotic project and promise, it endured and often thrived for twenty-eight years. It is over now and she is gone.
The storm of it has been both violent and awkwardly public. Yet here we are. Better, here I am.
One will need to learn again about singularity. One will need to force pronouns and verbs to accommodate themselves to what has now become real. In conversation, ‘we’ and ‘our’ still come untimely and from habit to the lips, then stand corrected in a moment when I realize I can no longer truly speak that way. Grammar must pursue truth but digs in its heels against the duty.
Now, these audacious, old words come fresh from Jon Foreman: Even though I walk through the Valley of Death and Dying, I will not fear, for you are with me.
I won’t be wanting.
They seem the world’s most false words and yet its truest.
How can the ache of unresponded want be dismissed in a sentence?
I suppose this will be the discovery that will now lie for a long time, perhaps always, on the horizon. On my horizon, seen day-to-day through two eyes rather than the four to which I had long since become accustomed and upon which, truth be told, I have become dependent.
Foreman’s song expands the most furious line of the psalm he gently, acoustically, knowingly rehearses. The Bible’s ‘valley of the shadow of death’ (or, ‘valley of deep darkness’) becomes in his artful song the Valley of Death and Dying. Perhaps Foreman knew—perhaps I must learn—that our well-vaccinated, air-conditioned generation has known too little of death’s shadows and deathly places. There is room for expanding a word like this. Perhaps for us, whom life has not trained to suffer, there is also need.
Unlike so many who gather here for Capetown 2010, I have not yet known what it is for death to rip from my arms a parent, a sibling, or a child. Few friends have gone that way. Yet this week, in this city, here in this apartment, among this gathering of Jesus’ world-wide people, I have become as never before familiar with death and dying.
The heart shall now be formed by the project of knowing what it means to sing in the valley’s darkness that I will not be wanting.
Dear friends who have ventured before into this unfamiliar valley assure me that, though the lesson is not easy, this knowing can be found. When there is nothing else to do, one takes the next step. Into a valley that reeks of dying. Singular, yet in company.