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. 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.
Several months ago, I was about to leave a wedding rehearsal that I had just finished when the bride’s parents came up to me and asked if I could give them a blessing. I have to admit that I was surprised. We give blessings at baptisms and blessings at weddings. We bless meals and houses and ships and new buildings. We even bless our animal companions once a year or so. But for some reason, blessings just for the sake of blessing, just for the sake of being, has become almost non-existent. Perhaps we’ve become almost distrustful of it, as if it’s some sort of implied expectation that God will shower good things upon us. Our language has taken that concept of being “blessed” as some sort of reward, as if God has somehow built a bubble of good things and protection around us. Well, truthfully, that’s just bad theology. No where are we promised that God will shield us from bad things or continually shower us with good. Faithful living does not guarantee that one will become healthy, wealthy, and wise. The promise is that God will journey WITH us through all that life holds, even through the valley of the shadow of death.
This Psalm is known by some as one of the psalms of ascent, a traveler’s psalm. It was often used as one began a journey and was a reminder to look to that place where God was, to know that God was there, a traveler with the traveler. It is also a Psalm of blessing, a blessing for one who is about to begin a journey. In our translation, the scripture begins with a question. But since there’s no real punctuation in the original Hebrew in which it was written, this may or may not be intended this way. Maybe, rather than a sojourner looking for help, it is one who acknowledges that he or she is not alone. “I lift up mine eyes to the hills from where my help will come.” This is the Lord who, no matter what happens, will keep your life–through all that life holds, darkness and life. The Lord is always and forever present, never drifting away or slumbering. The chorus from Elijah (Mendelssohn) uses this theme. “He, watching over Israel, slumbers not nor sleeps.” God is always there. This is the promise of faith.
The Hebrew call to be a blessing (Parshas Lech Lecha) is used eighty-eight times in the Book of Genesis. A blessing is a gift. It involves every sphere of our existence. It is not, as our language and our culture seems to depict, payment for a life well-lived; it is not taking the bad things of life as God’s way of strengthening us or something; it is not somehow straining to proclaim the bad as good; and it is certainly not living some unreal existence where darkness does not seep in at all. Being blessed means to be recreated. It takes time. To be a blessing is to enter the story. God calls, God promises, and, as the Psalmist depicts, God walks with us, ever-present and ever-faithful. That is how God is revealed. When we enter the story, we are truly blessed. We begin again. We are blessed to be a blessing, one who journeys with God.
A Blessing is a beginning, a new beginning, an acknowledgment that, even now, recreation is happening. Life is a blessing. Even darkness and wilderness and desert spaces in our lives are blessings as they look ahead for the Light to come. On Ash Wednesday, we were blessed with ashes as this Lenten journey began, as we were reminded who and whose we are. We began again. God walks with us on this journey. We know that. Intellectually, we know that. But knowing it deep within our being is what being blessed is all about.
Blessing is one of the ways that God makes the presence of God known here and now. (Joan Chittister, in Listen with the Heart: Sacred Moments in Everyday Life, p. 8)
On this second Sunday of our Lenten journey, know yourself blessed, know yourself recreated, know yourself as you begin again.
Grace and Peace,