Parson to Person: Psalms and the seasons of life
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills!” — Psalm 121:1.
This summer, I have encountered some pretty impressive hills. The benefits of being a teacher include summer vacation and summer travel.
In June, I was privileged to visit Jerusalem. From the Old City of Jerusalem, I lifted up my eyes to the Mount of Olives — the mount from which Jesus entered Jerusalem amid songs of praise on Palm Sunday, and the same mount from which he wept over the city.
Halfway down the Mount of Olives there now stands a teardrop-shaped church called “Dominus Flevit” (Latin for “Jesus wept”) which commemorates Jesus’ sorrow.
From a sailboat on the Sea of Galilee, I gazed up toward the grassy slopes of the Mount of Beatitudes which commemorates Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
At the beginning of July, I attended the Mennonite Convention in Phoenix, Ariz. (a sort of metaphorical mountaintop experience). After the convention, driving from Phoenix toward the Grand Canyon, I was drawn by the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff.
Then, along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, I was awed by the stark and spectacular cliffs of the Grand Canyon, in variegated shades of red and brown.
In Colorado, I drove from Silverton to Ouray on the narrow, zigzagging Million Dollar Highway, carved precariously into the side of the mountain over Red Mountain Pass. My eyes were drawn upward toward the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
Mountains evoke wonder and awe and a sense of timeless stability. Psalm 121 is a hymn of trust, communicating the sense that all’s right with the world.
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”
The Psalms of the Bible are the poetry and songs of Ancient Israel. They express not only feelings of stability and contentment, but the full range of human experience.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann finds in the Psalms reflections of “all the seasons of life.”
Alongside hymns of praise and thanksgiving are psalms of lament, uttering feelings of pain and despair.
Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The words of this lament also voice Jesus’ feelings of anguish on the cross. Brueggemann classifies the Psalms into groups that represent a cycle of Orientation (stability) — Disorientation (crisis) — Reorientation (thanksgiving).
The human experience inevitably includes times of crisis and pain, times of stress and anxiety. But, life is an ever flowing process with valleys and peaks following one after another.
We all need times for relaxation and renewal. Summer is the season for school holidays and family vacations. Whether literally or metaphorically, we can lift up our eyes to the hills. We can take time to soak up the stability and calm of the mountains.
We need to find ways to renew our spirits, to experience reorientation. With the Psalmist, may we find comfort in the help that comes from God who is the source of life, the maker of heaven and earth.