A Cry from the Valley
I lift my eyes up to the hills—from where will my help come? – Psalm 121:1 (NRSV)
The opening line of Psalm 121 is one of the most (mis)used passages in the Bible. Church camps encourage kids to “lift their eyes to the hills” to get them outdoors. Inspirational posters impose the verse on pictures of the High Sierras. Psalm 121 is a favorite of the church I serve because we’re in the foothills of the Rockies. Even my desert-dwelling mother loved the verse because the high mountains of northern Arizona offered relief from the “Valley of the Sun” (a.k.a. Phoenix).
But this psalm was never meant to be an ode to the mountains. When the psalmist looked to the hills, they did so not with awe and thanksgiving but with fear and trembling. Psalm 121 is a “pilgrim psalm,” to be sung along the journey to Jerusalem or other sites. The pilgrim had to pass through narrow valleys where the hills above spelled danger, not beauty. Bandits and brigands could hide behind rocks, ready to swoop down on the unsuspecting traveler. Lions, wolves and bears might be around the next bend. No wonder another psalmist wrote of the valley of the shadow of death.
“From where will my help come?” is a cry for deliverance, not a song about nature’s majesty. I love mountains, hills, and hiking as much as anyone and certainly have known God’s beauty and grandeur in such peak experiences. (No pun intended.) But I’m glad this psalm tells the truth about the One who is with us not only on the mountaintop, but also in the valleys below.
Thank you, God, for hearing our prayers wherever our journeys may lead. Thank you for your beautiful mountains, too. Amen.