Go! for Lent: Psalm 121:8
If Lent – and life – is a journey, then we can have no better words to be our companions on the way than the eight verses of Psalm 121.
Scholars say that this psalm is the second of the 15 consecutive so-called ascent psalms, and they surmise that the psalms were sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem or during holiday celebrations in Jerusalem. Some say it is likely that the people returning from the Babylonian exile sang these psalms as they climbed the hills and mountains on their way home to the Holy City.
Imagine, then, those exiles singing the psalm’s opening verse: “I lift up my eyes to the hills” and asking, rhetorically, from where is their help to come. Read on and we understand that they knew their help came from the Lord. Thus, they were able to sing that the ever-present God watched over them, shaded them from the sun and the moon, protected them from all evil, would not let them stumble, and kept them safe.
Would I have such blessed assurance? Or would I be plodding up those hills and on into the mountains worried about what awaited me when I got back to Jerusalem? Would I be muttering under my breath about how, if God really keeps us safe, why have we been stuck in Babylon for 80 some years? Would I really have trusted that God always watched over my comings and goings?
Sometimes, I do feel God’s very close presence and I can trust the sentiment of verse 8. Other times I feel like I have found myself in Dante’s “dark wood” where I unable to see my way through to God and the good that the poet found eventually in that “wild, harsh and impenetrable” place.
When I find myself in that place, I remember a man I met as a chaplain in a radiation oncology unit. He was dying too young and too quickly. I was stunned when he told me that he wanted Psalm 121 read at his funeral service. I did not understand and when I asked him why, he said “It gives me peace.”
May we, more often than not, find ourselves in that place where we trust that the peace of God which passes all understanding really does go before us, is always behind us, and surrounds us in all our comings and goings, this Lent and always.