It didn’t get much critical acclaim and never achieved the cult following of The Princess Bride or Joe Versus the Volcano, but the 1993 rom-com “Dave” did have an all-star cast: Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Ving Rhames, Laura Linney, Frank Langella and Charles Grodin. In an ironic twist, some of the most remembered dialogue from this movie was the line uttered by the nameless White House Tour Guide as she shepherded groups of sight-seers through the building at a near-sprint: “We’re walking, we’re walking… And we’re stopping! And we’re walking, we’re walking… And we’re stopping!”
Something I discovered about that word “walk” stopped me in my tracks this week.
My word for 2019 “quiet” has taken me deep into lists of synonyms and ancillary terms by now; this week, to the words “meditate” and “meditation.” The first scripture reference in my study Bible was Genesis 24:63.
Some translations read that Isaac was “out walking” in the field when he saw the camels bringing his bride Rebekah to the settlement. Others say that Isaac “went out into the field and while meditating” noticed the camels approaching. One says both: “One evening as he was taking a walk out in the fields, meditating, he looked up and saw the camels coming.”
My NRSV study Bible offers this explanation: “The exact meaning of the Hebrew word translated “walk” in the NRSV is unclear, so it is often translated ‘meditate’.”
I’ve been puzzling all week over why the translators made such seemingly divergent choices, and yet having those two words show up together resonates deeply with me and my experience. Since my move to the land of eternal summer, I enjoy walking the neighborhood every day, and I use the hour not just to exercise, but also to think, meditate, and pray.
It also made me wonder: Is that linguistic twist the reason the Psalmist could say with such assurance, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me?” Was that affirmation of faith possible because the original writer understood that bound together in that word was not just the physical experience of walking but also the spiritual experience of being in communion with the Holy?
I don’t know. I’m neither a Hebrew scholar nor a translator. But entertaining the possibility was valuable for me. As I continued to ponder “walk versus meditate” and those words from Psalm 23, I realized for a long time after Bill’s death I was focused solely on making my way “through the valley of the shadow.” I just kept walking, afraid if I stopped, the grief would consume me.
Sometimes you have to stop. To rest. To re-evaluate. To regroup.
There is wisdom to be learned in the valley as well as on the mountaintop.
Stopping to notice those translation notes and paying attention to what else was there led me to two things: a reminder to trust where I cannot see, and the promise that the Holy is with me in every circumstance – including and especially in the “valley of the shadow”, whatever form that valley takes.
Those things are particularly important in the midst of this week’s concerns as I wait – with all the rest of the farmers – for the ground to dry out so planting can continue, as I wait to hear from a publisher, as I mourn the loss of a dear friend’s dear mother, as I hold a seriously ill uncle in prayer, and as I prepare to make my way through those June days when, for me, the shadows are the darkest.
Walk as you are able, Dear Reader; do what you can. And when you can’t, stop and rest in the loving presence of the Sacred.
“And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And he tells me I am His own…”
In the Garden, Charles Austin Miles, public domain.