A Snagged Thread
by Rev. Jennifer Barchi
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.
The Lord will not let your foot be moved;
     The Lord who keeps you will not slumber.
The Lord who keeps Israel
     will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
     the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
     nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
     The Lord will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
     your going out and your coming in
     from this time on and forevermore.

- Psalm 121

It’s funny the things you find when you’re packing up to move. 

Buried in the back corner of a desk drawer – one that I hadn’t rooted through since I briefly moved back in with my mom in between graduation and Baltimore – I found a notecard that I must have made in my first year of seminary. I had just been introduced to the practice of Praying in Color, a spiritual discipline taught by Sybil MacBeth. It gave legitimacy to what I had already noticed – that, when I doodled, I was more able to connect with the divine and actually be meditative. This notecard - buried in the back of this drawer – was one of my early pieces of praying in color, which I remember keeping up on a bulletin board above my desk…but for the life of me, I can’t tell you why.
The evening that I found it was just a week before we were supposed to be moving. The movers were scheduled to come on April 3 rd . But with COVID-19 and the then-new shelter-in-place order, we weren’t sure that that was going to happen. Still, we continued packing. And there it was, with its simple inscription: Psalm 121.

It’s funny the things you find when you’re packing up to move. And sometimes the memories that those things stir up are even funnier.

My mind took me suddenly to my college dorm – junior year. My friend and I were stuck in an old, one-room double-occupancy box made out of cinder block in a hall with freshman who had just discovered the definition of “college partying” (the throbbing base of which is pretty terrible for someone who has trouble sleeping under the best of circumstances). Our beds were bunked. I had the top. It had been a particularly difficult few months, and I had just discovered Psalm 121 as a source of comfort. So I taped it to my ceiling thinking that if I read it over and over as I was trying to fall asleep it might be repetitive enough to conk me out, in spite of the parties down the hall. It did not work. I kept it up there anyway.
Then there was the song that popped into my head: Total Praise by Richard Smallwood. Under the direction of an extraordinary gospel choir director, I sang this with our seminary women’s choir in my final year. It’s one of those songs that sticks with you. I can still sing it, and the lyrics pop into my head with relative frequency.
The funny thing is – I don’t think I’ve ever preached on Psalm 121. It’s not one of my favorite scriptures. Yes, it’s comforting, but it’s not one of the ones that typically jumps to mind when I’m providing pastoral care. And yet, it has intersected with my life in profound ways and at the most difficult of times – it is a snagged thread running the length of the tapestry of my life. 

Coming upon that notecard in the back corner of my desk drawer felt like the Spirit poking me in the ribs.  Psalm 121, it said, do you even remember what it says? Maybe you should reread it.  I didn’t. Then we moved. I lost the notecard in the shuffle. After Easter I pulled out a book to prep for a meeting and there it was. Again.  Really. Maybe you should reread it.

I did. 

The Lord who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper.
The Lord will keep your life.

These were the lines that stood out. 

Night or day, God is with us – alert, present, paying attention.
God holds us, embraces us, keeps us.
In life and in death we belong to the Lord of life.

Now, more than ever, I need those reminders. Now, when the whole world is shuddering under the weight of collective trauma; now, when we are cracking under the stress of our individual griefs; now, more than ever, I need those reminders. 

And perhaps it’s fitting that those reminders come from this Psalm that isn’t my favorite – this Psalm that just keeps showing up like a snagged thread. Because the truth is, sometimes the Spirit shows up in spiritual practices that aren’t our favorite, in places that we don’t find beautiful, in people we don’t particularly like, and in those challenges and calls that just keep popping up over and over again. And in the chaos of the world as it is right now, I find that particularly comforting because it means that even in this time that feels so bizarre, so unpredictable, so riddled with grief and anxiety, God still shows up. It might not be in the ways that we expect or normally find meaningful or are particularly attracted to, but the Spirit is still reaching out to comfort and embrace us. The words might come from an unfamiliar tongue or to the tune of an annoying song, but Christ is still proclaiming, “I love you, and I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.”

Thanks be to God.

Let Us Pray
Through the songs that get stuck in our head and the backwards schedules of quarantine life, you show up Lord. In the midst of crisis and grief, you hold us Lord. In unexpected people and unfamiliar ways, you proclaim your love for us. May we have eyes to see you, and ears to hear you, and imagination and wisdom to recognize you. For this we ask in the name of the risen one. Amen.

Jennifer serves Dickey Memorial as pastor, storyteller, and aerial acrobatic instigator. She is the mom of a very active 16-month-old and two hyper rescue-dogs, and she is the wife of an extroverted environmentalist. As a serious introvert, she finds quarantining with all of them to be a fascinating adventure. In her free time she is an executive coach, a writer, and an artist.