May 14, 2020

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.  As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time on and  forevermore.  Psalm 125: 1-2.

As a student of literature, I learned long ago to translate poets’ visual images into concrete memories from my own experience. I haven’t seen A.E. Housman’s lovely cherry trees “hung with bloom along the bough,” but I have seen my share of blooming fruit trees and envision those instead. Nor have I stopped by the Vermont woods Robert Frost describes on a “snowy evening” to watch them “fill up with snow.” I have, however, hiked in the snow, and heard the sounds of the wind in the trees (“the sweep of easy wind”). 

Psalm 125 describes the mountains which surround Jerusalem creating a visual image of God encircling his people. Having not been to Jerusalem, I can’t envision the mountains surrounding that city. I can, however, translate that image to places I do know. 

One of my favorite of all places is Cades Cove, an area in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park near the little town of Townsend. A cove, by definition, is a valley or gap between woods or hills. Cades Cove is just that, a broad, arable valley which stretches for 4,000 acres ringed by mountains. Once home to a handful of farmers, there remain historic community churches and quaint houses and barns along the 11-mile loop road.  Livestock still grazes in the vast meadows, and a few crops are still grown by farmers who now reside just outside the park boundaries. 

It is a quiet, protected place. It is easy here to understand the psalmist’s metaphor. 

Currently, we are by necessity surrounded by walls: walls of masonry, or concrete, of lumber. We feel safe, but, alas, fenced in. But almost daily I mentally take myself to Cades Cove. I set up my lawn chair in one of the lush pastures and enjoy the expanse of space and the comforting protection of the splendid mountains. I remember that as the mountains surround Cades Cove, so God surrounds me and all his people today and for all time.

 I like to think we all have such a place. Where is yours?

Written by Sharon Cleland

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