Psalm 121

 

Hanna Belden

 

TEXT

 

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?

2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

 

3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;

4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

 5 The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

 

 7 The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;

8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

 

 

INNER VOICE COMMENTARY

 

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?

2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

            Agnosticism sucks.  Here I am, sitting amidst a sea of church-goers as they recite a psalm with the sweaty-palmed lay reader at the pulpit.  Usually I just sit silently during recitations - repeating worshipful words to a deity I’m not sure I believe in with a hundred steadfast believers leaves me feeling vaguely nauseous.  I would be happily silent now, observant and unobtrusive, but the old lady across the aisle from me has been shooting me dirty looks for the entirety of the service.  Mumbling incoherently, I turn my head to my sister, who is contentedly pronouncing every word in time with the reader, and am reminded of why I keep dragging myself to these Sunday services.

 

3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;  

            If “He”’s really there, not letting feet slip, why do people’s feet slip all the time?  I flashback to middle school, when I first began to doubt Jesus.  Having been raised a Congregationalist (a small, pretty liberal section of Protestantism), I happily attended service and Sunday school every week, blindly accepting everything I was told until I began middle school.  At that point, my classes started being taught by a Fundamentalist woman who told me outright that my Jewish and Muslim friends were going to hell.  After trying to reason and debate with her for a year or so, I finally got tired of bashing my newfound beliefs against the brick wall of her ignorance and intolerance.  Much to the surprise of my parents, I started refusing to go to Sunday school.  In retrospect, the consequent talks that I had with my mother about faith and religion as a concept were some of the most valuable I can remember having in my still-developing intellectual life.

4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

            More with the sleeping.  I would think that if God is perfect, he probably doesn’t need sleep anyways.  If something powerful beyond our capacity to understand needs something as basely animal as sleep, maybe we should be questioning its greatness?  I stumbled upon a TED talk given by Richard Dawkins a while back on militant atheism, and he made a valid point: if something vastly more potent than ourselves (God) is responsible for our creation and continuing existence, then by that logic something even more powerful must be responsible for the creation and continuing existence of the first “something”.  Such a concept becomes difficult to even imagine, let alone support with anything even remotely scientific, very quickly.  But at the same time, how can we claim that the infinite beauty of the natural world is merely the product of happenstance? I suppose in this matter, as in many, my agnosticism stems from my general inability to make a decision, given the understandability of both arguments. 

5 The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

            Speaking of “watching”, the old lady is eyeing me again.  I think she’s figured out that I’m not actually saying the words.  I swear, if she’s going to judge me for not saying the right words, she doesn’t deserve the effort I’m putting forth to placate her.  The thought of the old lady’s judgmental glare sends me right back into my reflection: how many “Christians” actually live by the word of Jesus?  I can respect the Church for the societal benefit and personal strength it brings to so many people, but sitting right next to a woman who found religion as a way to appreciate life after a near-death experience sits a woman who believes to her core that she is going to heaven and her dying mother’s atheist doctor is going straight to hell.  “Religious war” should be seen as a laughable oxymoron, not a frequent occurrence.  Jesus, whether or not you believe he is the Messiah (I don’t), is a hero because the only reference we have shows him to be a man who practiced what he preached - love, acceptance, open-mindedness.  The ability of “Christians” - in particular those who are absurdly proud of it - to truly and blindly hate people different from themselves is, in fact, about as unChristian as you can get.  I cannot reconcile in my head the disconnect between the words of Jesus Christ and the intolerance of the modern-day “Christian.”  To be honest, even if I were a bible-bearing Christian, I would have difficulty proclaiming (or even admitting) it simply because I see so many stigmata and negative connotations attached to the title.  Besides, to my mind religion is an incredibly personal and private experience, not something to be shared in gigantic communities of worshippers, but that’s probably the introvert in me speaking.

6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

            Bullshit.  Excuse my French, but how can anyone claim that God will keep you safe when there is so much pain in the world?  My journey to agnosticism coincided nearly perfectly with my descent into depression as an early adolescent.  I came out of the depression after a few years, but the agnosticism stayed with me, strengthened by the proof I saw (still see) in the world around me.  The Epicurean Paradox outlines this perfectly: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.  Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.  Is he both able, and willing? Then whence cometh evil?  Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”  I like this because it is irrefutably and exceptionally logical.  As someone whose entire life is based on the logical over the emotional, this strikes a chord.  However, as an idealist, emotional being in need of reassurance about the integrity of humanity, I find this quote disheartening.  Again, my indecision leaves me in limbo. 

           

 7 The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;

8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

            Though the reason behind Atheism speaks to my inherently logical side, Agnosticism - to my way of thinking - leaves a hole open as if to say “but please, God, please prove me wrong.”  Atheism is for those who don’t need the comfort that is to be found in an all-powerful caretaker.  I guess my agnosticism is my way of admitting to my own emotional reluctance and immaturity.  I still desperately crave the emotional support of religion, but am unsure of how to reconcile it with the atheism I find so sensible.  Upon this realization, I am nudged back to the real world by my sister’s elbow.  I turn to see her smiling at me benignly as she points to my bible, still open to Psalm 121, though the Reverend has long since moved on to her message for the day.  I look out the window at the budding daffodils and sigh.  Yet again, I have reached no satisfactory conclusion to my intellectual dilemma.  C’est la vie.