Passing through the dry valley


V. Ned BixlerContributing columnist

The dog days of summer, we call them. Theyʼve been called that since the days of the Romans. They are the hottest, most humid, most sultry, most muggy days of summer.

And we need some good news of wisdom to help us get through them. There is some in the sixth and seventh verses of the 84th Psalm.

“As they pass through the dry valley,

the valley becomes a place of springs;

the early rain fills it with pools of fresh water.

They grow stronger as they go;

They will see the God of gods of Zion.”

Passing through the Dry Valley reminds us of the dry spells that people go through in more serious ways. They have no shortage of water, especially if they live in a city in the Midwest on Lake Erie, like Sandusky, or even in Delaware County, but they are short of energy and vitality; courage and wisdom; faith and hope. They are limp, and in their own vernacular, they feel like a dish rag. Just as there is from time to time a recession in the economy, there is in every individual a recession of vital energy.

The question is: What can we do when we are passing through a dry valley?

First: You cannot do anything until you get it out of your head that there is something unusual about you, until you are perfectly clear in your own mind that you are not the only one who goes through this particular kind of experience. I think of the greatest presidents of them all, Abraham Lincoln, was a giant of whom we rather comfortably use the term bipolar.

I think of Phillips Brooks, the most influential clergyman of the 19th century. After serving as rector of Trinity Church Boston for 22 years, on the last Sunday before his consecration as a bishop, he preached twice at Trinity, once in the morning on “Let your light so shine before men” and again in the afternoon on “Let him that is thirsty come” and a third time in the evening at St. Andrews on “He that overcomes shall inherit all things.” Each time he seemed full of the usual vitality. But when he wrote one of his closest friends that evening, this is what he wrote: “I resigned the rectorship of Trinity Church and it seemed like dying.”

So thatʼs the first thing. Realize that passing through the dry valley is not unique to you.

Second: Get up and do what you have to do. I think of the life of the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven. One of his biographers writes: “In the midst of his productive years, with pregnant themes humming in his head, he could be counted to work them out, despite physical distress and every preoccupation, sordid or otherwise. And at that very time he had bad health, unhappy love affairs and a terrible row with his brother, but it was his business to compose, and when he sat down to write, he wrote some of the grandest music in the world, music the world still listens to, and hear only the overtone of his joy and gladness.”

Third: Look for the presence of God in a place. What the ancient Celtics called “thin places.” I find such a place on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the village of Duck along the Atlantic Ocean as “the day is dying in the west, when heaven is setting earth at rest.” I take my beach chair and a book, and read and study until the black flies come, and I know it is time to go.

After you have done all this, then go to someone who has passed through the valley before you.

You may find that person in a book, like the book of Psalms. Take the sixth verse of the 84th Psalm as just one example:

As they pass through the dry valley,

the valley becomes a place of springs of fresh water, early rain fills it with pools of fresh water. They grow stronger as they grow.

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V. Ned BixlerContributing columnist

V. Ned Bixler is a retired United Methodist pastor.

V. Ned Bixler is a retired United Methodist pastor.