In South Carolina, lawns were typically flat and flourishing. San Diego yards, not so much.
What San Diego yards lack in size, they make up in depth and character. It is not uncommon to have a yard that backs up to a deep canyon. Resourceful homeowners with canyon-views learn to terrace their yards. Their hard, creative work results in beautiful, multi-level yards marked with nooks and crannies.
This past week, I have been studying and meditating on Psalm 84. This well-known psalm boasts three main, “Blessed are those” statements, each coupled an image. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, shown poetically by the sparrow nesting in the house of the Lord. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, pictured by saints on pilgrimage to God’s Temple, and blessed is the one who trusts in you, imaged by the content doorkeeper in the house of the Lord.
While in other seasons of life, my heart has grabbed on to the first and the third images, this week, my heart and attention were captured by the middle verses and accompanying imagery.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84: 5-7.
A Terraced Heart
The Hebrew word mesillah translated highways above comes from the root word salal. Salal can also be translated as lifting or ladder. A heart full of pathways, a laddered heart, a heart set on pilgrimage to more of God by the strength of God.
In the past when I have thought about a heart full of highways, the image that came to mind was the Autobahn in Germany, a well-paved, smooth, clear highway to the Lord. However, the introduction of the imagery of climbing and ladders shifted my image to one that seems to more appropriately show what pilgrimage to the Lord looks like. A climb, a curvy, circuitous route.
While those on pilgrimage on to the actual house of God would have climbed upward, I often feel like my walk with the Lord looks more like a downward climb to the heart of God. After all, in the gospel, we learn that the way down is the way up.
While it takes great strength to climb upward, it takes equal or more strength to travel the path of downward mobility that leads to the heart of God.
As I thought about these verses, our dear friends’ stunning canyon-facing yard came to mind. The initial level is a beautiful patio. Many people would be content to stay there, leaving the rest of the steep yard uncultivated. However, our friends have slowly, over the course of a decade, begun to terrace their yard downward, level by level. The result is that every time you visit their home, you are shocked to find yet another terrace, cultivated, beautified and planted. They are not even 3/4 of the way down their property, and their terraced yard is already a maze of hidden spaces.
I long to have a heart that resembles their terraced yard. One that refuses to settle with what I know of God and have experienced of His presence. I long to continually, by His strength, descend deeper into the untamed and wild places of my heart and the world around me, and begin to experience Him there.
A Place of Springs
The pilgrimage pictured in Psalm 84 is one through the Valley of Baca which literally means weeping place. Often the pathway to the presence of God leads us through pain, disappointment and suffering, our own proverbial valleys of weeping. However, the psalmists paints a portrait of the tears we shed in those valleys of weeping becoming pools of refreshment for those who will pass through the same valley after us.
What depths of hope and purpose we have in the midst of our downward pilgrimages to better know and be conformed to the heart of God. Each downturn is a chance to cultivate gospel-terraced hearts; each valley of weeping is a chance to create a refreshing pool for those who suffer similarly in the future.
May we know the happiness, the blessedness of those who move from strength to strength, deeper into the heart of God!