Andrew Suderman teaches theology, peace and mission at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He also serves as secretary of Mennonite World Conference’s Peace Commission. Andrew […]
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.
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;
[the LORD] will keep your life.
Psalm 121:1-2, 5-7
My first memory of landscape is of mountains, the rounded, ancient slopes of the Appalachians of western Maryland. Later, from Grade 3 until graduation from high school, I lived with my family in the Appalachians of eastern Kentucky, and still later, as a young adult, I served for seven years as a volunteer with Mennonite Central Committee and as staff for a community organization back in the Cumberland Mountains of southeast Kentucky.
I have now lived in Kansas almost 21 years. It’s not the flattest part of the state–that’s further west–but it’s still pretty level, with only hedgerows of trees and the occasional “Kansas skyscraper” (a grain elevator or sometimes a water tower) to break the line of the horizon where the land meets the vast sky. After two decades, I have learned to appreciate that sky: never the same color combination two sunsets running; the infinite variety in shape and “texture” and expanse of clouds; the wide range of the daylight. I no longer feel as if the sky is so big it’s going to flatten me, even though it is that big.
And yet. Sometimes, still, I look at a cloud bank and imagine it’s mountains climbing up to meet the sky, disrupting the horizon, hoarding the sunlight, especially in the winter months, until graciously beaming it forth when that fiery ball finally scales the top.
Many would cite this psalm as their favorite. I base this assertion on knowing, or having known, people who’d say that. These people are also from the mountains of Appalachia. I’m pretty certain others who would name it have never lived in mountains but feel in this psalm the deep love of God and God’s promise of everlasting care and protection. In the season of Lent, when Christians tend to be reminded of Jesus’ 40 days of deprivation in the desert wilderness, the words “The LORD is your shade” and “The sun shall not strike you” might also have enhanced meaning.
When immigrants (the “stranger,” the “foreigner,” the “alien” named over and over in Scripture) are rejected and mistreated at the highest level, then the church is at a watershed moment. We are so clearly told in that same Scripture that what God requires of God’s people is to care for, protect and nurture the most vulnerable, the least respected. And with that kind of instruction, there seems little doubt that resistance will be–is being–called for.
In addition to being a psalm of comfort and assurance, Psalm 121 reminds us of some basic truths. God created heaven and earth; therefore, God is in control of heaven and earth. God created our life and God will keep our life. God who watches all and sees all is ever-present (“neither slumber nor sleep,” verse 4). God’s love and care never fail (“from this time on and forevermore,” verse 8b).
Whatever we are called to do, whether it’s turn our churches into sanctuaries in the truest sense or turn out at city council meetings; whether it’s write, or call, or speak face-to-face with elected officials in the statehouse or the White House; whether it’s register voters or register as Muslims; whether it’s pray for peace or place our bodies as observers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids or intimidation; whatever it is, God is with us.
Do I have hills to which to lift my eyes? Not in south-central Kansas. However, growing up where I did, the hills will be forever in my imagination, whether I live where I can gaze at them again in this life or not. But Psalm 121 tells us that even when we don’t see the mountain, it is still there: “the LORD is your shade at your right hand.” And there lies our help, and our hope.
Melanie Zuercher lives in Newton, Kansas, and has worked for Bethel College as a writer and editor for going on 13 years. Among her favorite things are coffee, her cat Helen, the Flint Hills of Kansas, listening to podcasts of “On Being with Krista Tippett,” spring gardens, silent retreats, large bodies of water, wood-fired pizza, reading fiction, British murder mysteries on Netflix, and her church, Shalom Mennonite in Newton.
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