I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you–the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
Psalm 121: 1-8
When I was in college, I worked for a girls camp up in the mountains of North Carolina (see Post Why teaching, or how God dropped my life on my head). I loved being in the mountains. I had grown up in Atlanta and even though this was about 35 years ago, Atlanta was much as it is today–crowded, noisy, terrible traffic, exhaust from a sea of cars and buses, a huge mass of urban sprawl. In the mountains there was peace, quiet, no confusion, no (obvious) pollution. Life was lived much slower as the “rat race” seemed to be “down in the valley” back in the big cities.
I felt so much closer to God. The very distractions, the things that vied for my attention, were not here. I can remember hiking to the top of a mountain outside of Black Mountain, the location of the camp, sitting down and surveying the beautiful view. There was nothing but hills/ mountains, green, trees, blue skies, a massive silence only broken by an occasional call of an unseen bird, as white popcorn clouds lazily floated overhead. I hated the very thought of ever leaving. I can remember specifically “talking” with God, or rather pleading and lamenting as to why I would ever have to go back “down there”—back to where I knew I would not be able to hear Him as well. I could be a “better” follower and listener up here. It just made sense that I should stay here. This would be my cloister, my convent. I would live a contemplative life here.
The dichotomy of my life, playing out once again. The frustration of the part of me that so desperately sought nature, a simpler, slower life, a call to serve God by sitting at His feet each day and simply listening, verses the part of me that was the “city girl”, the “get up and go” girl. I couldn’t see then what it was that God saw and knew was to be my life.
Back home, as I was student teaching and having to traverse the Atlanta expressways,— the deadly 285, better known as the Perimeter–the interstate lassoing this massive city– each day, making my way from my home to the school, I often found myself sitting in a traffic nightmare, sitting behind a Marta bus (Atlanta’s transit system) breathing in the heavy noxious fumes of a diesel engine…wondering why it was that I was sitting here and not in the mountains somewhere.
I wrote of my remorse to a friend who did live in the mountains, as he lived at the camp year round as a caretaker. One day a package arrived at my house from Black Mountain. Inside was a jar of water. Placed inside the jar of water were various stones, shells, and other “natural” objects. There was a note..the note read that whereas he, my friend, could not give me the mountains or the life I seemed to be yearning for, he could send me a part of that world–captured in this small jar. The clear water represented the mountain streams and the clear blue skies. The stones and shells represented just that, all things found in nature. Each time I felt lost, sad, or simply found myself yearning to be elsewhere, I was to look at the jar and remember that it was/is all still there, waiting for me to come back for a visit.
I have carried that jar with me all these many years since. It sat in my classroom for 31 years. Each new year would bring a group of new students, always asking as to why I had a glass jar of water, with rocks in it, sitting on my desk. And each time I would proceed telling them my story, again and again. The kids would be somewhat reflective upon hearing the story as I think they too understood yearning for something more, or something else–most often as a young person, naturally, does yearn for more to life. But my yearnings were deeper and of a most spiritual nature.
I still find myself yearning for more of God and maybe that equates to my yearning for more from God. Yearning to serve Him better, yearning to hear Him better. Wondering where my journey, this life of mine, will take me. And just as it was then, it is now, today, the same–He can see all of that well before I can even sense it. And so I must trust and continue trusting and I must listen and continue listening. As I serve others I sense I am always closer to Him, no matter where I may be–and I suppose that is the point of it all—serving others brings me closer to Him.
I will continue lifting my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help—my help, my solace, my encouragement, my peace. May you too find your help, your solace and your peace–wherever God may lead you. Amen
(photograph: Cades Cove, TN /Julie Cook 2011)