I moved to Burlington seven years ago from a city in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. When I had been here only a few weeks, I led a memorial event at Elon for a former student who had died in a tragic manner. It's always tragic when a youth dies, but that’s a column for another day. As I left the event, walking back to my office, I recited to myself the Psalm we would have used at my former institution at every memorial:

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)

It was that moment that I realized why I was always feeling disoriented — there were no mountains to help me gauge direction and orientation. I kept looking around for help and couldn’t find any fixed points on the horizon.

Since then I have found my way around, of course, although I still miss the mountains. And although I believe in watching where I step, especially on uneven brick sidewalks, and crossing streets, I notice that many people walking by are looking down, at their watches, their phones, or away from other glances. Looking down is another way of being completely alone.

When the person walking towards you is engrossed in something else, it would be easy to collide, if one of you weren’t watching. But I often notice that those watching their phones won’t speak as we pass, don’t acknowledge the existence of the person passing them. It feels unfriendly to me, especially on a campus, but also in a small town.

Recently, a friend told me a story of hiking with a group in the Grand Teton Mountains of Wyoming. They were awed by the vistas and peaks. One of the members of their group was watching the ground the whole time, searching for animal scat, and would call attention to it. Her fellow hikers doubted she ever saw the mountains. Perhaps she was a scientist, an animal specialist, tracking their habits. And probably there are unique animals in that area. But why, oh why, would you miss the spectacular loveliness of the mountains, focusing your eyes on the dirt?

Lifting our eyes is a good and wise practice — for direction, for community, for safety, and for spiritual help.

It’s no accident that we motion upwards when we think of God, that we seek God “high and lifted up.” To lift our eyes is to come outside ourselves, to look others in fully in the face and eye, and to find the Holy One staring back in the face of others. To lift our eyes is to be present in our lives and to invite community, to be accessible to others, even to invite acknowledgement and conversation, or at least a good word between us.

To lift our eyes is to become aware of the grandeur of God around us, in the created world and its beauty. It is to open our hearts to observe and feel the injustice of life, of human societies, and to contribute to its healing. Looking up is a prayer of gratitude and a willingness to be moved, awed, and transformed. We look up to find stability and strength around us, in ourselves, and in our human and divine bonds. And above all, it is to seek and find the holy power of God working in and around us, “able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3: 20).

To lift our eyes is to ask and be open for help from God. There is more than direction out there for us if we will only look up for it. I will lift my eyes.

 

The Rev. Dr. Janet Fuller is Chaplain at Elon University and can be reached at jfuller3@elon.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rev. Dr. Jan Fuller is Chaplain at Elon University. Contact her at jfuller3@elon.edu.