Ps. 121: Turning to the Mountains

Abrigal Forrester is the Executive Director for The Center for Teen Empowerment (TE) in Boston, MA. He has worked in the nonprofit sector for 18 years, focusing primarily on youth and adult professional/leadership development. Abrigal also served a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence as a first-time offender from the age of 21-31, and has successfully overcome the debilitating effects of his incarceration. 
 

When we can no longer bear the burdens we carry, and turning to other people is simply not enough, we can always seek the grace and mercy of God, “Creator of heaven and earth.”

Turning our gaze to the “mountains” (or beyond the mountains) provides us with a physical way to feel closer to God—to been seen and heard, and to see and hear more clearly. At such times, we need to tune out other frequencies that can distort our supplications and our ability to listen deeply for a response. In many of our religious traditions great sages and mystics speak of the presence of unseen beings amongst us—angels, spirts, jinn—that can impede, distract, or undermine our prayers. Whether we experience these forces externally, internally, or both, the need for spiritual discernment is undeniable.

That is why there are also so many images in our sacred texts of great souls taking refuge in mountain clefts, caves, or other quiet places for meditation and reflection. Prophetic figures like Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) all did this in the midst of their trials and tribulations. We need these times and places to enter into a prayerful state of being.

It can be so hard to do this in the heat of the moment, when we feel intense fear, pain, anger, and more. The noise can be overwhelming. How can we possibly listen for a message in the midst of a mess—to discover “a way out of no way,” as the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it. But, no matter how bad things may be, there is always a message—there is always something to learn, some way to grow from the experience. God is present even when all we can see is destruction or desolation on the horizon.

This psalm provides us with a vivid example of human vulnerability that still speaks to us today. Whether we live in an urban, suburban, or rural setting, we all know what it is like to look out our windows and feel great fear, pain, or hopelessness. This ancient poet prompts us to come to name our anxiety and to seek God’s help. This requires us to be honest about our situation and reach for something higher (or deeper). Of course, it also requires us to emerge from the “cave” or “cleft” and journey onward.

Dr. King modelled this for us powerfully when he ascended the “Mountain Top” on April 3, 1968, at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee to deliver what would be the last speech of his life. Like countless black women and men before him, this brave leader gave his life—his last breath—for freedom, justice, and peace. As he famously said in that speech,

… I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

Today, we face great challenges across our country and throughout the world. Illness and injustice seem to besiege us from all sides; it is hard to stay strong, hopeful, faithful. In such times, it is all the more important to look up, look in, and remember that we are not alone. We stand with our ancestors—including the oppressed and those who repented of their oppressive ways—and with noble and courageous people from many walks of life in our ongoing quest for goodness and righteousness, and we stand with our Creator. As we say in Islam, “God is greater!” 

Read more about PsalmSeason here and subscribe for email updates.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

"It is permissible within our religion to defer, or to make up your fast later if you're feeling sick."
From experience, I know that Hispanic families had been greatly, and disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and survey data from the 2021 PRRI-IFYC Religious Diversity and Vaccine Survey corroborates this.
As the last few days of Ramadan are upon us – take our interactive quiz to find out how much you really know about this holy month.
We weren’t sure what to expect or how to navigate the complexities of getting to know colleagues from a distance, but IFYC team members Silma and Nadia welcomed us into their homes, their traditions, and their faith.
As the final project for the class, we wanted to do something that would make our campus a more inclusive, interreligious place.
IFYC is collecting prayers and meditations from diverse faiths to show our solidarity with the people of India, as well as links to charitable organizations that people can support.
Generally, tradition holds that the body is to be cremated or buried as quickly as possible – within 24 hours for Hindus, Jains and Muslims, and within three days for Sikhs. This need for rapid disposal has also contributed to the current crisis.
“Humanitarian Day embodies why Islam is relevant in America today. It’s why many Black Muslims embraced Islam, to be part of the solution, not only in their personal lives, but in their communities." - Margari Aziza Hill, MuslimARC
Recently, I asked a group of IFYC Alumni to share what they do in one sentence. I love their responses because they capture who they are so well.
As a nurse and a physician occupying different spheres in relation to the patient, Anastasia and I held comparable but also differing views about the role of religion and interfaith in the realm of patient care.
El movimiento necesita artistas, educadores, trabajadores de la salud, padres, funcionarios electos, científicos, clérigos, directores generales, y cuantas personas sea posible para hablar en contra de la injusticia donde sea que la veamos.
The scholarship covers the students’ tuition, as well as housing and living assistance while they pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees across all 18 of Columbia’s schools and affiliates.
En esta foto del sábado 9 de mayo de 2020, el Rev. Fabián Arias lleva a cabo un servicio en casa, al lado de los restos de Raúl Luis López quien murió de COVID-19 el mes previo, en el barrio Corona del distrito de Queens en Nueva York.
It is certainly within the rights of philanthropic and political institutions to 'not do religion,' but such an approach undermines any meaningful, holistic commitment to community or place-based humanitarian efforts in much of this country.
Last month, Kevin Singer, co-director of Neighborly Faith, brought two interfaith leaders together to discuss their respective publications and the consequences of the Equality Act on religious organizations, institutions, and places of worship.
It is in this spirit respeaking memory and finding time to etch it into the future that I offer the following exercise. It is designed to do with your friends or folks – preferably three or more. Take some time with it. Use it as a catalyst to...
Imagine my surprise upon coming to USA and celebrating my first Easter, but didn’t people realize it was Easter? Why are all the egg die and chocolates already sold out and none left for us celebrating a few weeks later?
They will, in other words, be learning the skills of mindfulness meditation — the secular version of the Buddhist practice that has skyrocketed in popularity to become America's go-to antidote for stress.
This is a sampling of sacred texts and statements, listed in alphabetical order by religion, that religious communities have used to engage in the work of public health amidst this global pandemic.
Chaplain Fuller’s leadership and guidance has left a lasting, rippling effect on and off campus which will guide communities and individuals into multifaith work and engagement long after her tenure at Elon.
In the grip of a deadly second wave of COVID-19, religious charities and faith-based organizations are among the many civil society groups that have stepped up to mobilize relief efforts.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.