When the world is overwhelming – where do we go for refuge? If we say “God is our refuge and our strength”, like the Psalmist, what do we mean by this?
Do we see God as a last resort, a refuge only when all others have proved insufficient? If so, we miss out on what God offers, spending our lives chasing anything and everything.
Do we see refuge in God as a kind of crutch, for those who can’t hold themselves up? If so, we have misunderstood what it is to be made in God’s image and made for relationship with him.
Do we expect to be whisked away, to be protected from every possible circumstance and never know or see suffering? Is this what we see as refuge? If so, in a world like ours, we are disappointed.
Yeats’ famous poem, The Stolen Child, tells a story of fairies calling out to a human child, calling him to come away, for ‘the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand’.
It’s a tempting offer – to leave it all, to no longer face this troubled world. When life has become incomprehensible, when the scars seem too vivid to ever really fade. When every day we come across more darkness, messiness and hate. The child in the poem, does, in the end, follow the fairies and leave the weeping world.
Where do we find refuge? Where is our place of shelter? Do we shut down to the world, remove ourselves entirely? There’s value in having times of retreat, but we can’t do it every day – we can’t remove ourselves permanently.
Psalm 46 does not speak of a God who calls us away, luring us with promises of a kind of fairyland. It speaks of a God standing with us in the storm, while the world churns, a God who is our strength, and a God who will one day cry out: “Be still!” We often use the verse ‘Be still and know that I am God’ when we have retreated to a quiet place. But here they are a shout, spoken into the trauma, conflict and upheaval, amid the noise. ‘Be still!’ – which could also be translated as ‘Enough!’
‘Stop and recognise that I am God’. Here in this place. Yes, even here.
There are echoes of this when Jesus, as recorded in Mark’s gospel, faces a storm. The waves batter at the boat carrying him and his friends, and Jesus cries out ‘Be still!’ Stop. Enough now. And this is what is promised here, that one day God will say: stop. Enough. And the spears will be shattered and guns melted down and the things we make will be tools for living, not weapons for war. Weapons that so many sell for money and gain and profit. Which kill and maim and destroy.
The effect of the weapons of war do not stop after someone leaves the warzone. We know this, and it grieves us. How much we need a refuge in a world like ours.The world churns around us as we struggle to know how to respond to its conflicts, its tragedies. We feel the effects deeply.
Feelings are powerful things. Feelings from present situations or from past experience – these are things that can dictate our lives, dictate who we are, how we react, how we love and live together.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
with a faery hand in hand,
for the world’s more full of weeping
than you can understand.
Our God does not remove us from the world. To find refuge in God is not escapism, or shouldn’t be. It’s not about clamping our hands over our ears or covering our eyes and refusing to see the suffering around us. We are not removed from it; instead God our refuge is in it with us.
One thing I remind myself of – when all seems dark and I can’t see God – God can see me. God can see in the dark. God has excellent night vision. God can see through the deepest fog, even when I feel surrounded by it.
Psalm 139 puts this well – where can I go, where you cannot find me? Even the darkness can’t hide me – for darkness is as light to you and night is as bright as the day to you!
God is not waiting at the end of the darkness, or calling from outside it, but instead is in it with us.