This week I have been thinking about Psalm 23 (that one about the Lord is my Shepherd) – and specifically verse 4, a well known line which goes ‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me’.

The word in the Hebrew translated here as ‘darkest valley’ is a powerful one that literally means deepest darkness, or shadow. It’s like the clouds have gathered and their heaviness is covering up the sun and the light.

William Styron, the author of ‘Sophie’s choice’, called this tangible weight the ‘darkness visible’ in his memoir of his own experience of depression. And it does feel almost visible when we’re caught in those moments of despair or sorrow – the almost suffocating heaviness, the change in the atmosphere around us, the sense that nothing will be the same again.

JK Rowling, another famous author with an experience of depression and anxiety, based her description of the mythical monsters dementors on her experience of this darkness. Her book ‘The Prisoner of Azkaban’ describes it like this ’Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them…Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.’

In tough times this shadow or darkness can fall and feel overwhelming and powerful – and feel like it will never lift. This verse tells us that when those deepest shadows fall, God is with us, and we don’t need to be afraid.

But what I have actually been pondering more than this is another verse which uses the exact same word from the ancient Hebrew language the old testament is written in. It is Amos 5:8 which speaks about God as He who ‘who turns midnight into dawn’ The word translated as midnight is that same word – so it’s telling us something amazing about God – that He can and does turn the deepest darkness and shadow into dawn. In fact the Hebrew word for dawn specifically refers to the very first moment the light pierces the darkness at dawn.

Another story this makes me think of is in Matthew 14 where the disciples are alone in a boat trying to cross the Sea of Galilee. They sail into a storm and the night and darkness descends. The force of it is starkly described in the original greek, which talks of how they were ‘tortured’ and battered by the waves, and the wind which was against them. The cyclist in me knows how exhausting it is – not just physically but emotionally as well – to be cycling against a stormy wind wind. And of course Jesus comes – but what this reminds me of is when – v25 tells us it is in the fourth watch of the night – which is the darkest point of the night – that moment int he small hours when almost anything can feel impossible and overwhelming. And that is when Jesus came. The NIV translates it as ‘Shortly before dawn’.

Ever had one of those moments where the clouds are heavy and storms threaten or are still raging – but then just for a second the clouds part and the sun breaks through? I had a moment just like that when out cycling recently – and just for a moment the sky was lit with a jagged cut in the cloud releasing the incredible brightness of the sun that was always present behind them. That’s what reminded me of that verse from Amos.

It’s so easy to feel that God is absent in moments of deep darkness. Hard to stop your mind from thinking all hope is gone, because the signs and feel around us feel incompatible with it. But the presence of deep darkness doesn’t mean God is not there or about to break through – in fact it could be precisely the opposite. Sometimes we need to remember that and hold on to hope in darkness – for ourselves or for other people.

Our God is the God who can pierce the deepest shadow and darkness – who can break through the cloud when we least expect it and bring shafts of brilliant light and hope. He can – and will – bring dawn. Look out for that moment the light starts to break through.