Look Up, Look Down
No doubt about it: these are challenging times.
On more than one occasion recently, the words of the ancient psalmist David have echoed in my mind—words that have brought solace to so many in times of danger, distress and despair:
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.
These words—the opening words of the 121st Psalm--and the ones that follow them, reassure us that we are held and protected and kept safe from harm by a loving Creator. What a beautiful, comforting thought that is.
And what an interesting choice of words: I will lift up my eyes to the hills. From where will my help come? To a bodyworker/energy healer/interfaith minister (me), it makes perfect sense. Not because God (or whatever name you use for your understanding of the Divine) is “up there,” in the hills, out in space, somewhere distant. To me, “lifting our eyes to the hills” suggests elevating our inner vision, our thoughts--our energy and consciousness, if you will--to higher, more “heavenly” things than the tribulation we’re in right now. Once we lift our focus out of the mire of worry, fear, anger or sadness and place it instead on higher things—things that are universally attributed to the Holy One, such as gratitude, generosity, love, and beauty—we are able to see that that’s where our help comes from. Our salvation, our rescue--our heaven, if you will--is in that which we hold in our hearts as The Divine.
But looking up is only part of the equation. I don’t think it’s an accident that the Psalmist reminds us that the Lord made both heaven and earth. Because nothing makes the concepts of gratitude, generosity, love and beauty more alive and real than feeling our connectedness with the glory of Creation.
Many years ago, when I was going through a difficult time, I had a vivid dream in which I was crossing a high foot bridge. I mean, REALLY high: so high it was up in the clouds. And the wind was blowing, steady and strong, as I tried to cross. I was so afraid I was going to be blown over the side that I knelt down and started to crawl across, absolutely terrified. And as I held on for dear life wondering if I was going to make it across, I did what they say you should never do in instances like this: I looked down. But instead of feeling the predictable terror, I felt peace. Far below me I could see the earth. I saw sparkling rivers, looking like tiny shimmering threads. It sounds crazy (well, it WAS a dream) but I could see the fish swimming in them. I saw mountains, and the tops of trees, and I could see the birds and animals in their branches. Everything was so beautiful and so alive, and I was filled with a sudden, deep sense of belonging and safety. A feeling of love rushed in where terror had lived moments before, and I knew that even if I fell, I was going to be ok. I woke up before I either got across the bridge or floated over the side, but it didn’t matter: I knew I was safe either way.
That dream came to me this morning as, deep in thoughts about the state of the world, I crossed one of the bridges over the canal where I walk every day. I looked down over the side and smiled as the 6 turtles who greet me every day swam up, one by one, to see me. As I watched their little striped faces peeking up out of the water at me, it occurred to me that maybe when we’re in a place that feels scary and we’re not sure how it’s all going to play out, after we “lift our eyes to the hills” we really need to also look down. To feel the earth beneath our feet and to be fully present in the midst of the blessed wonders right in front of our eyes.
I mean, how miraculous is it that a man-made canal crisscrossed by concrete bridges, lined by asphalt sidewalks and roads and overlooked by high-rise condos, is teeming with life?! Tiny yellow and white flowers in the green grass. White egret feathers here and there along the way. Fish leaping in the water, herons stalking the shore, purple lotus blooming along the bank, ibis feeding on the lawn…everything pulsing with life, revealing the presence of the glorious, riotous, holy loving God Energy in the midst of the otherwise ordinary. It’s right here where I walk every morning—and it’s right there where you are. Just look.
Essentially, I believe, the secret is in seeing the sacred in everything. The holiness in leaping fish and downy feathers is the same holiness that glows in your heart and shines from your loved ones’ eyes, that lives in the midst of both our joys and our sorrows. Once you recognize that, and feel the Presence of Love in all of it, you can never be alone.
So yes—look up. It’s important, even imperative to our survival, especially in times like these when so many of us are struggling. To lift our heart’s gaze to the Lord God, Divine Impulse, Loving Spirit, and be astonished at the strength that can come even without our asking. But then, look down. Sense the presence of the Holy One right here, alive and pulsing in you and me and every moment and every part of Creation. Take in these beautiful gifts, given to us not because we deserve them or asked for them, but because it pleased the Loving Spirit of Joy to bring them forth and dwell in them. Precious, living gifts, everywhere. Simply putting your attention on them, savoring and delighting in them, can take you out of that scary place or, at least, help you remember that you’re part of something bigger and better that holds you in safety, love, and wholeness.
You’re part of all this wonder, and it’s part of you. Like a holy river, the God Energy flows through it all, connecting us to each other and to every part of Creation. Remembering this won’t make the hard times disappear, but I’m pretty sure it can help us get through them with a touch of grace.
--Thanks to my beautiful sister Judie Brock for this amazing picture of the Blue Ridge Mountains.