Monthly Archives: August 2023


Psalm 124, by Riley Anderson

If it had not been for the Lord who was on our side – let Israel now say –

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us,

then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;

then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;

then over us would have gone the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

[Psalm 124, a Song of Ascents of David]

Years ago, when I had pulled a window in for cleaning, a bird got caught inside. The poor thing flew against the ceiling, bumped into walls, then tried over and over to escape through the glass of the closed windows. I opened all six windows as far as they would open, then threw open the back door as well. It took a few minutes, but the bird finally flew outside and disappeared.

Had the bird not panicked, she could have gone out the way she got in. But claustrophobic fear made her blind to that quick and easy exit. It took opening many escape routes for her to get back outside, back to safety.

Feeling trapped is an awful thing, and struggling to break free sometimes just makes it worse. Sometimes, even if there’s a way out, it’s impossible to see or take. That’s when the only way out is through someone else’s compassion and kind effort.

Thank God for others who are willing to offer us release.

Seen and Unseen

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!

As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.

Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud. Psalm 123, NRSV

The tables were all set and the tray stands loaded with glasses of ice water. Our pre-ordered meals were on the long buffet table with our names above the rims to make it easier for us to find what we had chosen. My salad was pretty as well as tasty, and my water glass refilled whenever it was close to empty. Everything was set up to make lunch at the conference an enjoyable break between programs. The same was true of the coffee break beverages and snacks in the conference room, and of the afternoon dessert tray. It would be easy to assume that all these things just appeared from nowhere – a magical and instant answer to our wants and needs.

But meals and snacks don’t come from nowhere. Two women were hard a work setting up the rooms, putting out meals, refilling beverages, and cleaning up the plates and cups when we were done. They did their work quietly, blending into the background, easy to overlook.

Disregard can be proactive – the dismissive words, the look of contempt. That kind is easy to see and easy enough to avoid. Disregard can also passive – no words at all, eyes sliding past as if no one were there. It takes attention and effort to refrain from this. When we practice either form, we run the risk of burdening the hearts of others with a scorn that is poison to the soul.

Not exactly a good tip.


I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem – built as a city that is bound firmly together.

To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord,

as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.

For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.

Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.”

For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.

Psalm 122, A Song of Ascents. Of David

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

For most pilgrims, going to the house of the Lord, making the journey to Jerusalem, wasn’t an easy or casual thing. It involved lots of planning and a good amount of time and money (Perhaps, for the locals, it wasn’t quite as difficult – more like the issues locals have during peak tourist season.). I’m not sure glad would be how most were feeling. Determined, yes; expectant, perhaps; satisfied, or hoping for satisfaction, maybe. I could easily agree if the verse were along these lines: Once I got to the house of the Lord, I was glad I made the trip – an it-was-worth-it statement rather that a I’m-looking-forward-to-all-the-work-that’s-coming-as-well-as-the-end-result.

But then I think about times when I’ve traveled far to be with loved ones, devoting time and money for the chance to be together. Booking flights, renting cars, getting someone to take care of home and pets during my absence were things I did happily. The joy of being united with loved ones infused the necessary activities with its presence before it happened. Whatever needed to be done, I did gladly.

The same is true of the times I traveled to attend special services – weddings, baptisms, ordinations, even funerals. I was glad to do it because I could see where all the effort would bring me.

It makes me wonder if gladness just comes more easily when there’s a lot of work involved. Am I less able to be glad when it requires little effort? It’s counterintuitive, but just might be true.

Swept Off My Feet

I life 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 will 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 and forevermore.

Psalm 121, A Song of Ascents

Anyone who lives close by it knows: the water doesn’t have to be that deep, it just has to be moving quickly. An undertow at the beach, a slimy rock in the stream bed: add a misplaced foot and a moment of distraction and the dangerous power of water reveals itself. Only the ignorant and the arrogant doubt or disregard the possibility of being swept away by this elemental force. It’s happened to me a handful of times. In all cases but one, I was able to regain my footing quickly; in the one case, someone else pulled me to safety.

That feeling of losing my footing has happened to me a handful of times in the spiritual sense as well. When I thought I had it all figured out and was sure I could find my way through life easily; when death came for friends and relatives; when hatred revealed itself in words and actions; when confronted with the harmful aspect of my own inner life. It’s at such times that the big question arises: do I trust that God is the solid ground beneath my feet?

Do you?

Lost and Found

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore. [Psalm 121:8, NRSV]

There were no streetlights near my home when I was in my teen years. On cloudy nights, or ones when there was no moon to light the way, darkness covered everything. One such night, I was walking back from a friend’s house after neighbors were in bed, lights off. About a third of the way home, before I made the turn and could see my house, my friend shut off her porch light. In that moment, a thousand yards from home, everything disappeared. After a moment or two of standing still, I continued on my way. Instead of seeing, I listened to the sound of my feet on the road; when the sound of my steps changed, I knew I had strayed off the road. I tapped my toes against the ground until I found pavement again, then kept on walking. Eventually, I rounded the corner and could see the porch light of my own home.

It’s this lost in the dark experience that I think of when I read this psalm. When I find myself in a dark place – in the existential, spiritual, emotional sense – I remember that night. Finding my way didn’t require sight, just enough trust to put one foot in front of the other until I rounded a corner and the light reappeared. My life is kept by God, coming in or going out; I may lose my way in the dark, but I’m never lost to God.


I life 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.

Psalm 121, NRSV

[Note: In the King James translation, the first verse was changed from a question to a statement – a beautiful statement of faith, but not what was written in Psalm 121. This is part of an ongoing series. For more information, click A Song of Ascents above.]

Where do I look for help when I’m in trouble? Whence cometh my help, to put more of a King James spin on it. Whom do I trust with my very life, in all circumstances? It’s a critical question, and the answer is always a statement of faith, even when God’s presence has sustained me through past difficulties. I will trust in God when I need help, just as I trust in God when things are going well.

Once I give my answer in this psalm, I find myself in good company. All of a sudden, there’s another voice, assuring me of God’s faithfulness. Someone else is with me in all of this, someone else is telling me that God will keep my life: I won’t be alone through any of it. I’m not the only one who cries for help, and mine isn’t the only life held by God. My neighbor in faith is with me, and we are both beloved children of the one who created and sustains this universe.

God, self, and neighbor in this mysterious and holy creation. Bound together in all circumstances. Not a one of us alone.


Psalm 120

In my distress I cry to the Lord,

that he may answer me:

“Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips,

from a deceitful tongue.”

What shall be given to you? And what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue?

A warrior’s sharp arrows,

with glowing coals of the broom tree!

Woe is me, that I am an alien in Meshech,

that I must live among the tents of Kedar.

Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace.

I am for peace;

but when I speak, they are for war.

Psalm 120, Psalm of Ascent, NRSV

The same emotional state that causes a child’s tantrum can also take hold of an adult. Reason and offers of compromise, even apologies, won’t resolve it – in fact, they may have the opposite effect, causing the one throwing the fit to ratchet up the anger. Destruction becomes the goal, damn the cost. And the cost is high.

What happens when it takes hold of a group, when words and actions cannot redirect the swell of damaging energy and emotion? When mob mentality takes hold and directs violence outward, aiming at specific individuals or groups? Large scale or small, that’s war.

Sometimes, in this emotionally charged and divisive age, it feels like peaceable words and actions are useless. But that’s not true. As individuals, we may not be able to put an end to the thirst for war and destruction, but we can certainly make sure we don’t add to it. Maintaining a state of non-reaction, of peace, bears witness and has its effect. Who knows – it may be the way God answers our prayers for peace. And it just might keep us sane and hopeful.

Keep speaking peace.

[This is the first in a series on the Psalms of Ascent. For more information, click above…]

Songs to Walk By

Psalms 120-134 are walking hymns, sung by pilgrims making their way toward (and up) to Jerusalem for one of the three yearly festivals. Who knows if they were composed for this purpose, for priests ascending the stairway of the Temple, or written for different purposes and assigned this role?

I live in a valley between two mountain ranges, and my home is at the top of one steep hill. Ascending and descending are part of every walk I take out my door, no matter the direction I go. I can’t think of a better place to be to sing these songs…

[For more on this series, click A Song of Ascents above.]