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!” 

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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.