"The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand."
(Psalms 121:5 NKJV)
The praying person in the psalm is in a distressed condition, in need of help. Right from the start he does not turn his eyes to his fellow human beings, near or far, dear or not. Perhaps it is in silence like that of Psalm 39 that he struggles intensely with the drama of seeking an answer: "I was mute with silence, I held my peace even from good; And my sorrow was stirred up. My heart was hot within me; While I was musing, the fire burned" (vv. 2 and 3). He lifts his eyes to heaven, where dwells the Eternal One who will not hesitate to be found, and speaks to his own troubled heart, to his agitated soul. And in soothing himself he declares the magnificent words of this psalm, "The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand". Shadow? What consolation can come from considering God a shadow? We are wont to identify shadows with something suspicious, to be kept away from, that dark part of every human being, such even as to disturb us some times. Yet we are made of light and shadows, our years pass between light and shadows. The shadows are part of us, representing the struggle between what we admit and what we ignore or do not want to see. We cannot cheat, with God it is not given to us to hide our shadows; in fact, it is right there waiting for us.
The term "shadow" occurs about eighty times in the Bible: it indicates protection and safe haven, darkness and fear. The former meaning comes from the refreshment that the shadow conveys, as in the case of Jonah the castor in a midday fire (Jonah 4:6). The negative meaning, on the other hand, is related to the death-like experience of cold and darkness in the most difficult trials, when strong is the need to take shelter in the shadow of the Almighty (Psalms 91:1). In our language we speak of "overshadowing" when there is something that darkens us, bringing worry and fear to our lives. At the same time it is a way of protecting oneself, or at least an attempt, to shut oneself in. Scripture declares that God's hands are like the shadow that protects from enemies, for He hides in the shadow of His hands (Isaiah 51:16). The shadow of His hand is enough to communicate paternal closeness and His loving effect. The protective and life-giving shadow is God's: "They will return to sit in my shadow, they will revive the wheat, they will cultivate the vines" (Hosea 14:8 CEI), where we can all shelter ourselves, like the lover who longs for the closeness of her bridegroom: "I sat down in his shade with great delight" (Song of Solomon 2:3).
Our existence is likened to a shadow precisely to emphasize how ephemeral it is: "Surely every man walks about like a shadow; Surely they busy themselves in vain; He heaps up riches, And does not know who will gather them" (Psalms 39:6). In comparison with the One who inhabits eternity, the duration of our life is as long as the palm of our hand; in its best state it is like vapor thinning in the air. The human being is only a walking shadow, lengthening or shortening according to the light, until it suddenly disappears. What most concerns the praying person is not the fragility of life, but the sinful condition, perceived as a cause of his condition: "Deliver me from all my transgressions; Do not make me the reproach of the foolish" (v. 8). Thus we return to the opening text, to remind ourselves that everyone has his or her own shadow outside himself or herself, wherever and however. Even now, if you look around, you will glimpse yours, and you may even have more than one. The shadow is silent, dark, stretching and shortening until it almost disappears, but it never leaves you. In fact, being behind someone to protect and accompany them is called shadowing them. When we do not see it no one is looking for it, because we are aware that it is with us and at the first light we will see it appear. Try to consider now that God is your shadow: "He will not allow your foot to falter, ... he does not slumber or sleep". We are now approaching the feast of Christmas, where light shines in the darkness, all of it. The shepherds go to Bethlehem at night, with darkness around them, in the darkness that becomes the place of encounter with God. Under God's shadow our shadows are transformed and we are reborn.
Weekly Bible Reading Plan #52
December 19, Jonah; Revelation 10
December 20, Micah 1-3; Revelation 11
December 21, Micah 4-5; Revelation 12
December 22, Micah 6-7; Revelation 13
December 23, Nahum; Revelation 14
December 24, Habakkuk; Revelation 15
December 25, Zephaniah; Revelation 16