This week we will be using the Psalms of Ascent as our prayerbook. These Psalms, fifteen in number, were possibly recited by pilgrims as they ascended the road up to Jerusalem, or during Temple worship as the religious leaders climbed the steps of the Temple (15 in number). Their devotional quality has led to several of them being used in Christian liturgy as well. They generally evoke a sense of thankfulness for and confidence in God’s loving protection and provision. Since the Psalms were intended to be sung, a musical setting of each Psalm is provided, when possible. Singing, or even listening to music, is a good way to pray as it helps us move from our head to our heart.
Today’s Bible reading
Read Psalm 121
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.
More thoughts for meditation
It is fair to read this Psalm with incredulity. The psalmist seems to be making a promise that God will not be able to make good on, or at least so far has not. How can we say that “the Lord will keep [us] from all evil,” when we have felt the hurt of evil people? How can we say that “he will not let [our] foot be moved,” when we have slipped and fallen many times?
A theological answer could be made, and is worth making. It might go something like this: humans, made in the image of God and given the divine breath, have that in them which remains untouched by the various forces of destruction that are loose in the world. Despite the effects of sin, something deep within us still hungers and thirsts for God. Our essential humanity is preserved, even if we have been hurt.
Regardless of whether we believe that theology, our soul still craves to feel directly God’s doting care, like a sick child craves a parent’s comforting voice and arms. We would like to feel that God has not abandoned us. Unfortunately, standing in the way of that feeling is the fact that we have been abandoned, often by the people who were charged to protect us in our vulnerability. At the very least, the love that we were given was not enough to “keep us from evil” throughout our lives. And thus we have learned the hard way that we have to be the keepers of our own life, staying vigilant, even going without sleep (literally or metaphorically). Either that or we are ready to give the care of our lives to the first person or institution that seems willing to take it.
Vigilance is a testament to our resilience. That children survive situations of abandonment is heroic. But a still greater heroism is required to let go of your vigilance, and let God be the keeper of your life. Try this idea on for a minute: It is not your job to worry about yourself, because God worries about you. Let me clarify that I am not talking about the problem of ignoring your own needs for the sake of others. Instead, I’m saying that you can lie down and rest once in a while in God’s care. Give to God the job of “taking your spiritual temperature,” as a friend of mine says, instead of always doing it yourself. Or, to change metaphors, if you are constantly opening the oven door to check the roast, it’s never going to cook. Get some sleep. God will keep you.
Suggestions for action
Pray: “You who watch over my soul, slumber not nor sleep. Grant, Lord, that I might sleep the deep, restful sleep of those who belong to Your care.”
Listen to a famous setting of this Psalm by Felix Mendelssohn. The repetition of lines, common in these oratorios, is done so that the music can draw out nuances in the words. Let it be a prayer on your behalf, and maybe also hear in it an answer to your prayer.
Lift thine eyes to the mountains, whence cometh help.
Thy help cometh from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He hath said, thy foot shall not be moved; thy Keeper will never slumber.
He, watching over Israel, slumbers not, nor sleeps.
Shouldst thou, walking in grief, languish, He will quicken thee.