why pilgrims laugh

Restore Our Fortunes, O LORD
Psalm 126, A Song of Ascents.

[1] When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
[2] Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
[3] The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad.

[4] Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negeb!
[5] Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
[6] He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him. (ESV)

We were on our third day out when we reached the highest point of our trek, about 11,000 feet. This was not an Everest expedition by any means—but it felt like a summit to us. We had been crossing fairly barren land since mid-morning, and arrived finally at an isolated tea house in Nagthali Danda, a high, open grassland surrounded on every side by snow-capped mountains, some of them in Tibet. I even took a picture from the window of the outhouse, which is featured in this post.

Our guides served us a hardy lunch of almost American pasta and then we went out to take in the sight around us. Like the pilgrims in Psalm 126, “our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.” We were in fact almost giddy with excitement. We played musical stones, took photos, and laughed some more. We were amazed and gratified. It was almost like a dream.

Part of the joy was rooted in what came before. We had been climbing for two and a half days, arriving in remote villages late in the afternoon, exhausted, welcoming food and sleep, even though the nights were cold and our bones and muscles ached. Each day felt like a victory, but also a battle.

And part of the joy was rooted in what lay before us. Over the next few days, although there were peaks ahead, we would begin heading down to Syabrubesi, toward an actual hotel, with hot showers. And then a ten-hour bus ride back to Kathmandu, and whatever was next—which wouldn’t require climbing.

Biblical joy is something like that. These pilgrims looked back, to the return from captivity in Babylon, a restoration they could not have imagined after the horrors of destruction and exile. Even strangers were saying “the Lord has done great things for them (vs. 2).” But they were also looking ahead, to the summer rain and the harvest. They would sow their own seed and reap their own harvest, and this too by the mercies of God. More laughter and more joy were before them.

Pilgrims laugh when we look back at what God has done and look ahead toward what he will do, remembering his providences and believing his promises. At the moment when we can consider both, there is an abundance of joy. Nothing transitory. Nothing superficial. At such moments our laughter is real, neither hiding our anxiety or our animosity.

In such moments we do not deny pain, past or future. We are fully aware and completely hopeful; we may go out weeping, but we will arrive at home with shouts of joy, because “The LORD has done great things for us (vs. 3).”

And we are glad.

Nagthali Danda

 

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