This is a pic of the view from my hotel window here in Seattle courtesy of my camera phone. I opened the curtains this morning hoping to get some sun (of course, this is Seattle…) and maybe a bit of a view. When I looked outside last night after arrival, I saw nothing but darkness. This morning, I look out and I see reality. It is not a beautiful view by any means – no vistas of Mt Rainier (no the mountain is not out this morning), no view of the sunrise, or even of the human-created skyline of Seattle. Just reality. Grass, weeds, bricks, fences, a storage container, and a truck parked under a carport.
This view very much captures my feelings about being here this weekend for Ben’s memorial service tomorrow afternoon. We have gathered this weekend because of the sometimes-painful aspects of reality. The unbelievably painful loss of a child, the grief of many, the grey-ness that many of us find ourselves within at this time.
Yet there is one aspect of the picture that I have not mentioned. Just looking out the window, it is not seen. But through the lens of the camera, a glint of light shines through and over the darkness. When we look at the world with only our own eyes, we often have a hard time seeing beyond the bricks, the grey, the chainlink, the weeds. But when looking through the lens of faith, there is hope in the midst of darkness. Hope for resurrection, hope for new life, hope for comfort, hope for healing.
Eugene Peterson, in his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, reflects upon Psalm 121 in the chapter on God’s Providence in a way that was very eye opening to me. The Psalm begins with the very familiar statement – “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come?” Coming from Colorado and growing up at the base of the Rocky Mountains, I often did that in times of prayer – looking up to the wondrous creation that surrounded Boulder and taking in the awesomeness and wonder of the creator. Peterson brings in another side when he writes that for the ancient Hebrew, looking up the hills often meant seeing all the things that were not of God – the places of Baal worship, the shrines to pagan gods, and so forth.
Do you fear the sun’s heat? Go to the sun priest and pay for protection against the sun god. Are you fearful of the malign influence of moonlight? Go to the moon priestess and buy an amulet. Are you haunted by demons that can use any pebble under your foot to trip you? Go to the shrine and learn the magic formula to ward off the mischief. From whence shall my help come? from Baal? from Asherah? from the sun priest? from the moon priestess? (pp 36-37)
He continues as he talks of where the Psalm goes from those initial words…
That is the kind of thing a Hebrew, set out on the way of faith twenty-five hundred years ago, would have seen on the hills. It is what disciples still see. A person of faith encounters trial or tribulation and cries out “Help.” We lift our eyes to the hills, and offers of help, instant and numerous appear. “From whence does my help come?” From the hills? No. “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (p 37)
That is my prayer for those who grieve this day, including me. That as we look at the reality of the world around us, as we look to the hills around us, as we look out the windows of our lives and see the bricks, fences, and weeds, that we are able to see the glimpses of God and that we experience the promise that the Psalm contains that our help does come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.