High and Lifted Up

Road Leading to High Mountains

Isaiah 6:1: In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.

I don’t know that many of us think about escalators and elevators. They’re there and we use them, and a few people aside who have claustrophobia or a fear of falling, most of us think they’re convenient. Evensong Bells thinks an elevator in this building would be a gift from God, and while God’s time is best, my hope as someone who plays bells and, as part of the job, schleps cases around when we play in the front of the sanctuary or take our bell songs on the road. It takes either two bell players to carry one of the two largest cases, but Jim Harris can carry both at once. He is one strong man. And here ends the commercial from Evensong.

I’ve always been fond of any device that can transport me to a higher level be it airplane, funicular, ski lift, rescue basket, and of course escalator and elevator. (I’m talking physically being lifted up here–hold on for the spiritual transport. You’re on your own for the emotional version.

Now, if you’re claustrophobia and must avoid elevators, I can’t help you much. But I can do something about fear of an elevator cable snapping as it seems to in the movies and a car packed with people falling to their horrible demise. In our local writing group, Write by the Rails we had a visitor one evening who was an elevator inspector. Normally we go around at the end of the meeting and talk for a few minutes about what we’re doing and what help we may need, if any. When our guest’s turn came up, someone asked about falling elevators such as those we see in disaster movies. His answer was that it’s physically impossible for an elevator in good repair to fall because of the way they’re designed. Think about—how many times is there a story about an elevator falling with multiple fatalities on the news? I can’t ever remember seeing one. Not that that proves anything, but if you find out about such an accident, please let me know.

Escalators fascinated me from an early age. If I had to choose between them and elevators, I would choose the moving steps. The engineering is fantastic, and while you’re more likely to be injured on an escalator, if you tie your shoes, watch where you’re putting your feet and hold on to the handrail, you’ll be fine. (The preceding announcement was brought to you by your mom, who also wants to remind you to wear a raincoat, eat healthy food and not talk to strangers.)

On teacher workdays in elementary and intermediate school, our mom would take my brother Ron and me to what was then called Parkington and now Virginia Square. Parkington was so called because of the large multi-story parking garage behind the multi-story Hecht Company building, whose façade was made up of large glass windows. It was an imposing sight and sported escalators which, while new and made of steel, lacked the soul of the ones in a store at our next stop, McCrory’s in Clarendon. For most of my pre-high school career, they had wooden escalators. I wish I could tell you what kind of wood they used, but I didn’t develop an appreciation for different kinds of wood until high school. The escalators at McCrory’s were old and funky, and our mom would leave us to ride the escalators up and down while we shopped. We would have ridden all day had she not threatened to leave us and see how much we would enjoy walking the thirteen miles to our house in Fairfax. Somehow, we managed to never make that walk, which would have spoiled a nice day of riding elevators.

Now, it seems to me that sometimes God lets us carry the heaviest hand bell cases over all kinds of terrain, including high mountains. At other times, he provides a nice wooden escalator to take us to new heights. And at other times, we have those rapid breathtaking ascents as we do in one of those glass elevators that pop out from the building and we feel there’s nothing holding us up but the floor. All these experiences are part of the journey we’re on, and whether we’re toiling up the mountain on foot or riding in style to the top the God who created us and loves us so much is there with us and ahead of us. Thanks be to God for God’s eternal presence and care!

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A Warm and a Joyful Hallelujah

HalejulahPsalms 150:6: Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.

I don’t know if you follow what passes for pop music these days. I don’t bother, largely because I consider most of what comes out to be a waste of time, demonstrating neither literary merit nor musical talent. Whew. Glad I got that off my chest. I think I’ve officially gone into curmudgeonhood.

I remember in the days of AM radio dominating the airwaves the various countdown shows, counting down (oddly enough) the records that had sold the most or made the most money or caused the stock market to soar or whatever. There was a version for black-and-white television transplanted from the radio called Your Hit Parade. This featured covers of popular songs with really bad singing, uncoordinated dancing and cheesy sets. Yeah, and we loved it. I would get so excited when it was time to reveal number one, I would hop around our living room like a frog. There are a lot of ways to show anticipation, and that’s one of them, although, I grant you, not too popular or widespread. My excitement was decidedly misplaced, because the number one song was generally the same as the week before, or the number two song from the week before. Still, this occurrence didn’t lessen my thrill at finding out number one.

The people who ran Your Hit Parade had what we might call peculiar sensibilities. I remember one year around Christmas time when “Tom Dooley,” that carol of comfort and joy, was number one. The host (or one of the hosts—they all looked pretty much alike) apologized for singing a murder ballad at such a joyful season, as if listening to it might ruin Christmas for millions of loyal fans. Apparently doing the song didn’t cause a groundswell of demands for the producers’ resignations, because the cast was back in place the next week, looking undistinguishable from each other, dancing like a herd of wounded buffalo and also singing like one. Not a pretty sight.

Anyhow, what I was saying a while ago about popular music is not true of all such music. There are some good songs, about every thousand releases or so. One such song is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” released in 1984 and used in a number of movies and televisions shows. If you haven’t heard the song, it basically uses Biblical allusions to King David, Sampson, the Holy Spirit and God to make a point about the difficulty of praise for us in times of difficulty. Several lines go:

(Hallelujah) is not a cry you can hear at night.
It’s not somebody who has seen the light.
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.

Cohen makes a valid point, I think, that sometimes our hallelujahs are cold and broken, but of course they are not at other points.

Our younger Alyssa had “Hallelujah” sung at her wedding last October, at which point in the ceremony I forget. I thought it an appropriate, meaningful selection.

The point of all this is that sometimes our hallelujahs are cold and broken; at other times they are warm and healed. I pray that this may be so for each of us, as we praise God for all God has done and work to make every child of God’s song such an expression of praise.