Sister Doreen’s Reflections
This is Theme for the Canadian Church Calendar 2023 Anglican Edition using the quote on the back cover:
“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. (Psalm 121: 1-2)
I thought how our life is all about peaks and valleys, and experience seems to show us that for every valley there will be a peak, and for every peak there will be a valley. Remembering this pearl of wisdom can be either humbling or comforting, depending on whether we find ourselves in a peak or a valley, and depending on what sort of transition we might be going through at a given moment on our life journey. So I began to ponder the different places I have encountered God, and been offered the opportunities, more than I can ask for or imagine, of deepening my spiritual life. These encounters, sometimes in joy and sometimes in painful times, have occurred in different settings on my journey with God: the mountains, the desert valleys, the ocean, the gardens, and the roadways. I’ve been encouraged with new understandings of and appreciation for landscapes of the sacred and spaces hallowed by God’s presence. There are times when we are climbing mountains, when we feel at sea or in the desert, when we experience ourselves in a garden, and often find ourselves on the road.
It also made me think of something that Belden Lane wrote in his book “The Solace of Fierce Landscapes” when I was pondering my own journey through the seeming indifference and emptiness of desert valleys and also the silence and sometimes threatening ledges and edges of mountain experiences. He wrote: “There is an unaccountable solace that fierce landscapes offer to the soul. They heal, as well as mirror, the brokenness we find within.”
Too often in our desire to know God and experience God’s love we look at distance place, special places, difficult places … it is easy for us to get attracted to and excited about splendors that are outside, far away. Like Naaman in the scriptures, we expect great and dramatic happenings when we set about to cure our own leprosy (uncleanness, not belonging…), and find it hard to believe that something as simple as washing, is the place of God’s healing revelation. We simply find it difficult to see that God’s presence, God’s love, is all around us, and that God has made God’s home within us. Evelyn Underhill wrote: “…our environment, however narrow and mundane, is always adequate for finding God, because there is no place or circumstance where God is not.” It is ourselves, within and amongst ourselves, that we will find vast treasures of God. “The glory of God is human persons’ fully alive.”
So perhaps this reflection is an introduction to several other thoughts, perhaps a series of reflections on the solace or comfort of different ‘landscapes’ in our spiritual journey:
- A simple reflection of life as peaks and valleys in this Saturday reflection
- Followed by other reflections of finding ourselves climbing a mountain, or wandering in the desert, at sea, or in a garden, or on the road.
- And then some closing reflections on how the landscapes of our spiritual journey can give birth to love, that brilliant darkness, God alone shining in the soul.
So to turn to psalm 121 and the theme of Peaks and Valleys of the Church Calendar, I share this translation of the psalm that has been helpful in reflecting on my own spiritual journey thus far – the transitions and experiences in my own life of both the heights and depths, the darkness and the light, goodness and evil, God’s absence and God’s presence: the general peaks and valleys of my life.
“The summits of the mountains draw my eyes and lift them upward and beyond, to you, the secret source of all my being. For in the heights and depths of you, in you alone, I find the grace and help I need ..”
As we are beginning a New Year, and as we open this Church Calendar whose theme is Peaks and Valleys, it seems like a good time to remind ourselves again that God is indeed our constant companion. God is our life-long companion upon the way. Our faithful God walks with us on our journey, and no matter what is happening in our life, God never leaves us alone. We often forget to remember how God has been for us in the past, God’s faithfulness – we are called to be a people who remember what God has done for us in the past. It is easy for one negative experience to either shape or sour our perspective – happy memories can so easily be swallowed up by a difficult or painful circumstance, damaging our perception of reality. It is so easy to complain, and to take for granted the many, many blessings God has given us. This psalm is a reminder to look back, to remember.
We are reminded in this psalm that “God who keeps you will not let your foot be moved” – such words of encouragement! God indeed will keep me safe. This is especially encouraging as we anticipate a New Year, I know that I need to be able to enter this New Year with all that we experienced over the past couple of years and in our world today feeling secure in God’s care. I need to look back and see that God has protected me in the past, I know that God is with me today in the present, and I trust that God’s faithfulness will guide me into the future.
I am reminded that in one of the paraphrases of the Lord’s prayer that we use here at the Convent, the Lord’s prayer begins with the words:
Eternal Spirit, Earth-Maker, Pain-Bearer, Life-Giver, Source of all that is and that shall be, Father and Mother of us all, Loving God in whom is heaven.
As we begin a new year, this psalm acknowledges the potential dangers in life, dangers that are real and hard. Our worries are based on real and genuine fears and realities that could bring us significant problems and difficulties in life. Into this very real experience, how important it is to have close at hand those whispers in our ears: “I am with you always” “from this time forth forevermore” “God is my keeper, my maker, my pain bearer, my life giver” “nothing can separate me from the love of God.”
In all the peaks and valleys of my life, as psalm 95 puts it: God holds all the caverns of the earth and cradles the heights of the mountains.
It is true that life is all about peaks and valleys, and for every valley, there will be a peak. As we make difficult transitions in our life it is so important not to lose sight of the changeability of each of our lives, and how fearfully and wonderfully we are made!