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Faith & Worship: God is present even in the valley

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)”

As some of you may remember from my article last month, I am really not a fan of snakes. Perhaps because of my phobia of snakes and other creepy crawly things, I have never been camping in a tent. I view staying at a lodge near a national park as a form of camping. The fact that I had never been camping in a tent horrified and amused the members of Holy Cross. Soon enough, a parish camping trip was organized. Ostensibly, this camping trip was organized as a way of building fellowship across different age ranges, but the real reason was to frighten me, the pastor.

Yes, I admit that I am not above laughing at my good friends and my brothers when they are afraid of small and insignificant things. I fully realize that this is an unredeemed part of my soul, and I am working on repentance and amendment of my ways. A trip, though, that is solely designed to scare and frighten the pastor of a church seems like a bridge too far. Nonetheless, I was backed into a corner. My honor was on the line. I couldn’t back out of a trip that would help build the esprit de corps of the church, so I agreed with much trepidation.

You would think a great and noble congregation would help their pastor through his fear and anxiety, but as the date for the camping trip got closer I heard more and more horror stories about tents, snakes, spiders, and bears. As we pulled up to Lake Logan Retreat Center in the mountains southeast of Waynesville, I put on a brave face. I dropped off my wife and daughter at a cabin and went in search of my luxurious tent. There it was in a field near a beautiful stream. Indeed, I had running water. More than I could ever imagine! As the sun set and we sat around a campfire eating s’mores and telling scary stories, I thought, “This is truly wonderful, but I wonder how I will feel sleeping in a tent. My tent-mate is notorious for playing practical jokes.”

The hour was finally upon me, and I trudged over to my tent. There it was, a little green dome with nothing but a sleeping bag, foam mat, skinny pillow, and gassy tent-mate waiting for me. Anticipated trauma was now a reality. My tent-mate had put a rubber coral snake on my pillow, which didn’t much scare me, but he said it was an omen of dreams filled with snakes. I rolled my eyes, and tried to find a comfortable position in the sleeping bag. Each position in the sleeping bag seemed to bring upon me a new uncomfortable pressure point. I realized that I wouldn’t find the magical comfortable position in the sleeping bag. I just closed my eyes, and tried to fall asleep as my tent-mate snored like a chainsaw.

Around 4:30 in the morning, I woke up having to go to the bathroom. I put on my shoes and started to walk over to the loo. I stopped and looked around. There was beautiful fog clinging to the ground no higher than my waist, and there was a clear beautiful night sky filled with thousands of stars. No clouds, no ambient light, just thousands of stars seemingly reaching down to the mountains that surrounded me.

There I was in the valley of darkness, but I knew that I was surrounded by God. All through the creation, God’s presence was throbbing and twinkling with radiant joy. All the thoughts of snakes and fear just melted away. The fog, the mountains, the stars, and the crickets were all performing in God’s divine orchestra of joy. I thought to myself, “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”

Father Robert Ard, Holy Cross Episcopal Church