“Look up,” my wife says to our 15-year-old when he can’t get his nose out of YouTube videos, but some days we need to say it to ourselves and each other as well. Look up from your phone and see the natural world, the people around you, or the chores that need to be done right now.
This past Sunday I turned off my Twitter notifications and gave myself a break. It might seem strange to consider this a form of looking up, since I’ve been conscientious for half a dozen years about curating a feed that brings me varied viewpoints about the news and the world. But I needed to mute collective anxiety for a minute and pay attention to something else. Instead of falling down the rabbit hole of Twitter replies, I needed to look up.
Looking up was key in the heroic life of Harriet Tubman. Her father taught her to look for the North star, a great skill for developing a sense of direction that would be life-saving for her and for the enslaved people she would liberate as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.* Looking up and finding the star gave her literal direction, a way to find a route by night, but it also represented her faith that God would make a way out of what seemed like no way to escape.
Nicodemus made his way to Jesus in the night because he feared showing his curiosity in public. Maybe he had too much to lose, or wanted to protect those who depended on him. It’s clear from their conversation in John 3 that he has only a partial understanding of what Jesus is doing and who Jesus is. My friend Mary Beth uses the email signature “John 3:17 – Look it up!” as a counter against exclusionary interpretations of John 3:16, and I have unpacked the contrast in past sermons. But if I were preaching this week, I would be paying attention to the rest of the passage, particularly this.
“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”John 3:11-12
“I lift up my eyes to the hills– from where will my help come?” (Psalm 121:1) We know better than to literalize this poetic expression, and yet there have been so many things that I needed to look up to see!
Look up from your phone, your work, and your singular point of view. Look up from your fears, your preferences, and your prejudices. Look up – for a wider view, a broader perspective, a more dimensional prospect of what God wants you, wants us, to do and be.
I’ve been reading about Harriet Tubman this week in two different books, both wonderfully accessible: Daneen Akers’ Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints and Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman.
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