Journey Toward Hope

Second Sunday of Lent: Psalm 121

We step further into the seasonal theme “Journey toward Hope” this week. Psalm 121 offers a wealth of spiritual resources to engage the theme. The psalm begins with anxiety about the pitfalls of journeying and concludes with a blessing for the journey.

Physical pilgrimage to sacred sites can be soul-inspiring. Yet, sometimes more travel can be an escape from the discomfort, grief, and tender possibilities of our own time and place, our own inward journey. For many, it may mean a journey deeper into the awareness of our own capacity in the midst of a feeling of powerlessness. It could mean a journey into our ecological place or own human place. For others, this is a blessing on a journey demanded by changes in water levels, violence, food scarcity, landslides, or drought.

The sojourner in verses 1-2 looks for assurance of protection, remembering help from the one who “made heaven and earth.” The God of Israel is more dependable than all others.

The psalm shifts voice in verse 3 from the traveler to the one offering blessing. God is the keeper. The verb keep is threaded through the benediction. Adonai is the protector and shield, “the hedge” around the pilgrim.

We know from evolutionary science our genetic journey to greater complexity has meant we as a species shed armor in order to grow sensitive, vulnerable protuberances like fingertips, lips, eyeballs and tongues. We are meant for a journey of deeper connection to the web of life, not the reverse.

Our impulse is often to be our own keepers. We often create a hedge around ourselves as nations, regions, cultures, and families. We foreclose on the abundance of community and creation, on the diversity of possibilities. Though the way we travel into the future is fraught with danger, it spills over with untapped resources too. 

Charles Eisenstein, known as an advocate for gift economies, wrote recently, “I disagree with those environmentalists who say we are going to have to make do with less. In fact, we are going to make do with more: more beauty, more community, more fulfillment, more art, more music, and material objects that are fewer in number but superior in utility and aesthetics” (Center for Action and Contemplation daily devotion, November 25, 2019).

Indeed, caring for God’s creation is not always about what we have to give up. It is often about what we have to gain. The recent UCC environmental justice report on toxic air pollution makes it clear that cleaner air means better health, especially for children whose small, developing bodies are particularly vulnerable. Ultimately, clean air makes for a better, more hopeful journey through life.   

May we “be kept” by the gifts of creation like air, water, and soil. May we “be kept” by the abundance of shared resources like parks and playgrounds and galleries and libraries and public transit and arts center. May we “be kept” by ritual and festival and circle which truly feed our souls. That’s our journey to a Zion which is interreligious, multi-cultural, and restorative. That’s our journey to re-birth as a people who know “eternal life” in a new, earthy and more communal way.

The Rev. Craig Schaub is the pastor of Parkway United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.