I like to hike. About this time of year, just ahead of spring, I start to really miss it. I don’t get out often enough but, when I do, it heals my soul.
You see, when I hike, I often (i.e. almost always) struggle with the chatter in my head. I can’t shut it off. And, when hiking, the problem specifically? Earworms. (In case you’re unfamiliar with the term)
For as long as I can remember, upon stepping foot on a trail, my mind finds a song that fits the rhythm of the walking. Within a few notes of hearing the song in my head, it’s all over. Adele. Coldplay. A praise song or two. Even the Backyardigans on one unfortunate outing. The song, the genre, doesn’t matter. The song is all I hear above the peace and quiet I go to the forest to find. Sometimes, the song fades. At other times, it does not. I just keep walking.
Of course, these hikes aren’t the only time my brain chatter drones on. When it’s early in the morning and I have my Bible in hand, the chatter in my brain is incessant. The weather. The scores from last nights’ game. Emai! I must have some new email that must be read at this very moment!
I stop, I redirect, and return to prayer and the Word, only to hear the chatter again within moments. Too often. Ugh.
Calmed and quieted? Ha! Psalm 131 mocks me, yes, but it also encourages me.
After all, Psalm 131 is a song of ascents. It says so right there in the superscription, “A song of ascents. Of David.” These songs of ascent (Psalms 120-134) were more than likely sung or said or prayed (or all of the above) by pilgrims headed to Jerusalem for one of its three annual festivals. Jerusalem was on a hill, after all, so the pilgrims had to ascend–climb–to get there.
In other words, they were hiking.
More than that, they were surrounded by fellow pilgrims and travelers. It could be quite a crowd. Remember Jesus’ parents on their way back from Jerusalem after the Festival of Passover, in a crowd so large that they lost their son for a whole day (Luke 2:44)? That had to be a whole lot of noise, inside and out.
Calm and quiet? These are not words we ought to associate with a bunch of pilgrim-hikers, in a crowd, headed to Jerusalem.
These words don’t describe how the pilgrims wanted to be or how they should have been. These words, “calm and quiet,” described how they were. They were calm, literally “level,” as if the rough places in their minds and souls had been smoothed over, They’d been quieted–made silent–in themselves.
I’ve gone online to try to find remedies for the brain chatter. Lots of psychology, self-help gurus prescribe solutions to the problem, but I prefer what Psalm 131 has to offer.
Psalm 131’s sort of calm and quiet don’t come by way of special meditation practice or cognitive behavioral therapy or any other human tactic. Their calm and quiet come from trusting in God, only God, in the moment, with every footfall, every step.
After all, the short psalm concludes
Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore. (Psalm 131:3)
There’s some irony in the fact that I’m struggling to quiet my brain chatter even now as I write this post. The chatter goes on. But, gratefully, the promise of God stretches farther. There’s hope. All I have to do is lean in, keep walking, and keep turning my attention back, however many times it takes, to the Lord.
That’s our hope. Now and forevermore.