Psalm 121

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved:
he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is thy keeper:
the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil:
he shall preserve thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in
from this time forth, and even for evermore.


Whence Cometh My Help

We no longer lift our eyes to the hills
But glaze-eyed worship at the widescreen shrine
To salve the ache of longing with cheap thrills
And dull desire for beauty’s truthful shine.
The god that never sleeps will catch us then—
No strong right hand to keep and to defend
But sticky strands of widow’s web, a fen
That mires, ensnares, entraps, but wraps pretend
In packages so pleasing, pleasant, bright
That we forget our fear, forego the real
To burn in backlit sun by day, by night.
When will we turn our eyes back to the hills?
When will we see that beauty beckons, Come,
Let go the seeming world, awake, come home


I live surrounded by hills and lift my eyes daily to their gentle heights—and to the distant craggy mountains’ soaring peaks.

But given that fact that there’s a prevalent disorder called “nature deficit,” many people apparently don’t. And even I, lover of nature that I am, have lived long years in ignorance of the natural world around me. The names of trees and birds, of flowers and shrubs, of stars and clouds, I’ve only begun to learn.

Our culture’s increasing distance, both physically and psychologically, from the natural world marks a huge shift from our forebears’ experience of the nearness of nature and their dependence on the earth, the sun, the rain, on plants and animals. This shift away from a felt kinship with and dependence upon the natural world makes us deeply vulnerable to the allure of the virtual world.

This vulnerability is all the more frightening because, as Sarah Clarkson points out, “the Internet never sleeps.” In fact it was the juxtaposition of Sarah’s words with the Psalmist’s that provided the seed of my sonnet.

For the Psalmist proclaims that the God of Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. This is a comforting claim, for the God of Israel keeps us from all evil and is our shade at our right hand so that the sun shall not burn us by day nor the moon by night.

In contrast the unsleeping god of the internet is at best indifferent to our peril and our need, and likely even hostile. Andy Crouch reminds us that false gods demand more and more from us until they eventually require us to sacrifice our children. I think we’re already starting to see this in the rise of nature deficit disorder and the increasing rates of video addiction among young people. I suspect there are many more maladies, especially mental ones, whose roots lie at least in part in our disconnection from the natural world and our over-connection to the virtual one.

Ironically, in the Psalmist’s day, the hills were likely the sites of Asherah poles, that is, places of idol worship. Many modern translations therefore render the first verses, “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where is my help to come?” This is far more ambiguous than the King James Version, which I included above (mostly because it is the version I memorized many long years ago and also because it is beautiful). For the Psalmist, the hills may have tempted him away from the worship of the one true God. In our day and age, we need the hills to remind us of God. If we were to raise our eyes from our insistent and ever-present screens, the hills might point us back to our dependence on and need of our ever-present but much less demanding God.

I’m equivocating. There is no “might” about it. The KJV is definite: my help comes from the hills. Of course, in the next line it clarifies that ultimately help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and earth. Yes, how lovely—how beautiful— on the mountains are the feet of them that bring good news.

And Psalm 121 is good news—the good news that God watches over us faithfully, unfailingly, over our going out and our coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

Photo by Susan Forshey, Creative Commons via Flickr.