Theology & Spirituality

Stars in the Pools

Ridges of foothills rise and swell, then swirl away in the fog filling the valley. Streams of melting hail run off the eaves with the sound of endless rain—and the look of thick snow. My neighbour’s flower box is one puddle of icy water. The gravel parking lot is more like a muddy-red pond than solid ground. All at once, a wave of thunder shatters the air, makes the ground shudder. Lightning flares pink and the ground trembles again—and again.

It is spring in the mountains—cool, wet, glorious. Yes, glorious, because pools of water seem incongruent with this arid place. This incongruence comes from my having transplanted into the mountains amidst a lingering drought some years back—meeting springs and summers with very few rains several years running. I am learning that even dry climes have Spring rains and puddles, once the spectre of drought moves his dwelling elsewhere.

The pooling rainwater recalls to mind these words:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,

in whose heart are the highways to Zion.1

When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,

it will become a place of refreshing springs.

The [early] rains will clothe it with blessings.2

Long have I loved this Psalm. Long have I gained hope that tears will come to fruition in blessings. Then, I met this Psalm in lectio divina and my perspective was expanded. Oft I have thought of the Valley of Baca (translated weeping) as a cracked desert, bare and ugly, sometimes covered with stagnant, muddy meres. That vision is now dashed away, in its place grows the image of red soil, juniper trees, and depressions lined with rocks of many hues, filled with clear water.

Water. What is the water-source of those dents dotting the valley? The springs that feed these pools are the tears of those bound toward Zion. Baca is the proverbial (or shall we say, Psalm-ish) “vale of tears” to which many individuals refer. Long have I thought that the tears shed in this dry land were simply for the refreshing of the valley, for the watering of any living scrubby bush in the desert. Wrong. Again. That is just the surface—these pools run deeper.

Think for a moment how many tears it must take to fill even a small pool. So many. A large puddle would need myriads of teardrops. I began to picture all of us sojourning toward home, where God is, traversing through Baca to reach our desire. The tears of our whole lives are collected in those pools encrusted with rocks of so many shades and shapes. My long-standing mental photograph of the Valley of Weeping withered. Our tears are not collected in turbid puddles, watering needle-nosed cactus or gnarled brush. The pools are refreshing springs, says the Psalmist. He must know from experience.

There they are: dusty, foot-sore, the travellers trekking on toward a home they have not yet seen. In the dark of night they reach this Weeping Valley. Swish! Their feet splash into an unseen, unanticipated, unthought of pool. The night air has cooled the hot salt-tear puddles. These unexpected springs cleanse wounds, refreshing the hot and filthy feet. They are a resting place for the weary. Water weaves, wavers, settles. The travellers are arrested by the night sky above them, but no! Below them, all around them—the stars gently throb and quiver. What mythical valley have they entered? Wobbly circles of star-light spread out as far as the horizon, kissing the starry ceiling. How can this be? It is all of the sorrow-pools, echoing back the beauty of the night canopy. Long the pilgrims gaze, their bloodshot, dry eyes drinking in argent rivers of liquid light. Hearts and feet and eyes refreshed, rest comes to the weather-beaten bodies and parched imaginations. Though these wayfarers will weep enough to fill puddles of their own, for now they are given strength to journey on.

Our tears, our sorrows, can somehow heal and refresh others. We might not see them come through the vale behind us, but our tears are not wasted. Always and ever do we go onward, toward Zion. Suddenly, my view of the Psalm dilates again—I see that we are dropping tears into varying pools of all sizes as we press on toward the lights of home. Our tears are not one deep tarn itself—no! Our tears are co-mingled with the saints who have gone on before us to refresh those who follow. Whether to wash and heal them, to inspire them, or to water the fruit trees to feed them. Indeed, the Valley of Weeping is clothed in blessings—the blessings of Beauty, of healing, of satisfying. Our weeping is not in vain, it is a blessing.

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Johanna Byrkett

Johanna Byrkett

Johanna (Jody) Byrkett enjoys hiking various types of terrain, foggy mornings and steaming mugs of tea, reading classic literature and theological essays, studying words and their origins, and practising the art of hospitality. (She also has the singularly annoying habit of spelling things 'Britishly'.)

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