"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." - Psalm 121: 1
Summer at the lake, and I'm trying out a borrowed paddleboard. I clamber on, kneel. Try to stand, fall. Try to stand, fall. Try to stand again, fall again. When I finally do raise up all the way, I stare at my feet, toes gripping the board, willing balance. Splash!
"Look up." someone says as I shake water out of my eyes, "If you look up, you will stay up." Climb on. Kneel. Stand. Looking up takes effort, the heavy lift of unwilling eyes away from the board, and toward the hills on the lake's other side. And now I'm not falling, I'm moving forward, one strong paddle stroke at a time.
Oh Lord, how I have looked down.
Summer is over and I'm looking down right now, in fact. My neck bends toward the computer on my lap, at the endless stream of my social media feed. I click on a link, and there's a white man on my screen, unloading weapons from hidden places all over his body, one side of his mouth raised in a half smile while from the other side flows a stream of vile and despicable words. I fall into the video, as mesmerized in horror as a rabbit on a road at night.
The psalmist and I live 3,000 years apart, but we both know the temptation of a lowered head. Afraid and overwhelmed, we look down – at the ground, at a screen, at our own uninteresting navels. But help does not come from there.
Look up, the voice sings across the centuries, look up and you will stay up. And once you are up, you can finally move forward, one strong stroke at a time.
Oh Lord how I have looked down. Grant me the strength to look up, the courage to stay up and the tenacity to move forward. Amen.
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.