Introduction to...


The Slope Through Darkness

The great world's altar stairs,
That slope through darkness up to God.

--Alfred Tennyson

I came home from work one evening a few years ago and realized that I had gone flat. I thought it was just a blue Monday, or a bad case of the blahs and a good night's sleep would set things right, but I was wrong.

The days that followed were a descent into a very dark place. I woke up morning after morning in the grip of melancholy, struggling to pull myself out of my gloom. I felt as if I were half-way up the side of a bottomless pit, hanging on for deep life, my handholds precarious, afraid to move for fear I would plunge into an abyss below.

Work became painful duty, a desperate effort. People with problems were a bother; friends with sunny, cheerful dispositions were a special trial. I found myself wanting to get away from everything and everyone--take early retirement, build a cabin in the woods, or get a permanent job in a lighthouse. I cared for nothing. I enjoyed nothing. I had nothing to live for and I could think of nothing for which I was willing to die.

Oh, there were flashes of delight--occasions that led me to think that I might be out of the doldrums, but then I would slip again into the old groove of my misery. Each time I moved closer to despair. I could deal with the dreariness; it was the hope that was hardest to bear.

Friends suggested that my joyless state was the result of stresses, losses, or that I was getting a little long in the tooth--but so what? What could I do? I sought good counsel. I read good books, but like Al Capp's Joe Bflstx, I couldn't get out from under my cloud. Nothing served to displace the darkness. Every day was a new shade of blue.

Then one morning something triggered the memory of an old poem--the Twenty-third Psalm--and the lyrics of that work became my safety line. I awakened morning by morning and seized on its words. I stuck to them like a limpet, reciting the words, reflecting on them, proclaiming them to myself. The Twenty-third Psalm became my creed.

One spring morning, not too long ago, I woke up, the clouds had dispersed and the sun was beginning to shine. I don't know what brought me out of the darkness, but one thing I do know: My melancholy wasn't wasted. It was part of the good God had determined to do for me. In the end, I could begin to say with Job, "My ears had heard of you; But now my eyes have seen you" (Job 42:5).

What follows are some of the glimpses of God that came my way--a stream of thoughts emanating from the journal I kept during my Dark Age, the poetry and ideas of others and my subsequent memories and musings. I share them with you in the hope that they will lead you to another look at this old poem and at that Great Shepherd of the Sheep--the only good shepherd worthy of the name.

From the book: The Twenty Third Psalm, Hope and Rest from the Shepherd Discovery House Publishers, Box 3566, Grand Rapids, MI 49501 (1-800-283-8333).