Even before the sun began to set, we could hear the noises. The brightness of day is giving way to night. The path is taking us down into a rich green valley, home of whatever is cawing, rustling, chirruping and growling. I admit, Iím getting scared. I want to hang back and let the rest go on, but what if the owners of those noises find me? I must stay with the group.
"Thereís food up ahead, guys," calls the leader. "Thereís food up ahead."
Heís always saying things like that. Trying to keep up our morale, I suppose. Is that a lion I hear? Whatís behind that fluttering bush? Surely I will be food before I get food. How can I be sure weíre going the right direction? Itís getting darker. The woods are getting scarier. The growls are getting more intense.
Far ahead I see our guide. Even our leader follows him. Why is he taking us through this place? The wind is picking up, blowing the grass, the bushes, the trees. It would be more inviting if it werenít so dark, so scary. My friends trot along with me on every side. Weíre all trying to keep the guide in sight, taller than anyone else. He advances with such confident strides. I sure hope he knows where weíre going.
"Whatís wrong?" asks my wife beside me. "You seem skittish."
"I canít help it," I say. "I donít see why we have to go through this awful place, just to find food."
"Donít worry, my pet," she says. "Weíll be all right."
"How can you be so calm? Donít you hear all those predators out there? What if one of them gets me? What if the guide is going the wrong direction? What if Ö?"
"Hush, hush, my love. Hasnít he taken care of us so far?"
"So far." I feel a bit reprimanded, but also still frightened. "Thereís a first time for everything. He canít protect us from all those beasts out there."
"Just stay on the path, and youíll be all right," she says assuringly.
I wish I could share her confidence. The leader seems just as willing to place his life in our guideís hands, always saying, "A little farther, thatís all. A little farther."
Itís true that our guide has been flawlessly on target till now. I edge closer to the center of the crowd, thinking that if something does attack, others would get it first. Maybe thatís selfish of me, but itís way too dark to feel safe. I have no idea where weíre going. Itís now too dark to even see. But I have no choice but to continue.
Finally we start to walk uphill again. A ray of light shines through the foliage. The moon is full, and our guide has brought us through at last. I donít even hear those noises anymore. Breathing a sigh of relief, I find a nice patch of grass and start munching. As I grow more relaxed, I begin to kneel in the soft delicious grass.
Meanwhile our guide sits under a tree, draws out a parchment, and begins to write. I can hear his musings, and for some reason they comfort me. Then comes the part that makes me ashamed of my previous fears.
"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."
Psalm 23:4-5a (NIV)
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