‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;’
(Psalm 23:4 ESV)
Sadly, the world-renowned, glamorous and quintessentially British, RHS Chelsea Flower Show has been cancelled for 2020 due to Government advice about Coronavirus (COVID-19). This is a shame for me as my interest in it had been piqued by the plan to have the ancient text from Psalm 23, found in the Bible, portrayed as a garden. I was so intrigued that I did some digging.
The design was to be a collaboration between The Bible Society and Sarah Eberle, an award-winning garden designer, who said Psalm 23 is the writing she comes to in order to be peaceful when troubled. The design of the garden describes our journey through life, with a submerged rock at the front indicating that even starting on the journey can be difficult and culminating with a broad rock where you can just sit and rest at the journey’s end.
As COVID-19 has turned into a global pandemic it is not only the Chelsea Flower show that has been affected. Schools, universities, theatres, cinemas, clubs, pubs, restaurants and cafés have been closed, sporting events postponed, and faith groups have been prevented from gathering for worship. Undoubtedly people are troubled by this virus and the measures put in place to limit its spread. Why do people like Sarah Eberle – and me – turn to a dusty old text to find peace in troubled times?
As a Christian when I think of the psalm, I’m reminded that in this world none of us is immune from troubles, just as none of us is immune from COVID-19. We all go through times when we experience pain and heartache, maybe because of sickness, bereavement or unemployment. We can feel like we are in a valley of despair, and surprisingly it’s being in this valley that provides me with the first glimpse of peace.
The author of the psalm writes,
‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;’ Several things strike me about this: First, the author says he is walking through the valley of the shadow of death. The implication is that when we are in the valley of despair and fear grips our lives, as may be the case now with this deadly virus, we are just passing through it. There is hope that we will not be lost in it forever, we will come out on the other side of the valley. Next, he mentions that he was walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Shadows are funny things, aren’t they? We can be scared by shadows, only then to realise it was only a shadow and so nothing to worry about. My Christian belief enables me to have confidence that likewise, death is just a shadow. Why? Because of Christianity’s claim that its founder, Jesus Christ, rose from the grave and is alive today. This gives me hope for my future. Then the author writes, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. In the troubles I experience, and with all the concern surrounding this global pandemic, for me, the fear of these things dissipates knowing that my God is with me during these difficult times.
The ultimate peace I experience is knowing that as I pass through the valleys of my life with Jesus Christ with me, death is but a shadow and my ultimate destiny is to be with him forever. It’s that thought that helps me deal with all of the sad and distressing news about COVID-19.
I may not be able to visit the Chelsea Flower Show this year to see Sarah Eberle’s garden, but I can visit this ancient text anytime I like and experience the peace she was attempting to portray. Why not read it yourself and see if it brings you peace when you’re troubled?
Have a good week reading Psalm 23.