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In the Shadow of Death

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You're probably familiar with Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd".  It's one of the most commonly quoted psalms for Catholic and Protestants alike - I probably know the King James version as well as my preferred Douay-Rheims translation.  One of my favorite hymns, and the one I plan to walk down the aisle to whenever I am married, is "The King of Love", which paraphrases the words of Psalm 23.

There is one phrase that never quite rang true to me, until this week:
For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me. In the King James translation, that's even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

And in "The King of Love", the verse runs
In death’s dark vale I fear no ill With thee, dear Lord, beside me,Thy rod and staff my comfort still,Thy cross before to guide me. The shadow of death...what on earth does that mean?  On one leve…