‘Refuge’ is a word we have heard and read many times in recent months and years. Throughout history, and still today, people have given and experienced refuge in their lives in all sorts of different ways.
Visiting the rural village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in France and its hinterlands, and learning about the refuge provided there by many local people who opened their homes to child refugees during the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and contemporary conflicts, was for me both poignant and powerful. You can read more about that visit here.
Since visiting Le Chambon, I have had the opportunity to work with colleagues in Belfast, Ireland, exploring the experiences of children and young people from Syria currently living in Northern Ireland. These children and their families had become refugees, experiencing first-hand the terrible trauma of violence and war, before relocating to the part of the world that we call home. Our study focused on the Schools Trauma Advisory and Referral Service (STARS), designed to support Syrian children and young people, their families and schools, and to help them thrive.
As I write, the war in Ukraine continues to dominate the news, highlighting the ongoing plight of war-torn humanity, the vital role of refuge, and the good work of those who provide it. In centuries past, refuge was offered in great church buildings, like the ancient cathedral in Durham. It was expected that seekers of sanctuary would arrive at the cathedral doors, and the community was ready to provide it.
The provision of refuge sends a shaft of light into the depth and darkness of our human suffering. In doing so it reflects something of the generous welcome held out to us by God. For refuge is a Scriptural concept: both the Old and New Testaments encourage the practice of hospitality, while Christ Himself as a young child fled persecution together with his family, taking refuge in Egypt. Psalm 91 characterises God Himself as a very personal refuge for the writer:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
The short meditation which follows is a personal reflexion on this great theme of refuge. It was written by a friend of mine, Fiona, during a session at a recent conference inspired by Psalm 91. When encouraged to find a way to express the truth and hope of God as Refuge in her own life, Fiona, a musician and teacher, took up her pen. She offers these words to encourage and strengthen all who read them. I am grateful that Fiona has agreed to share them here.
Refuge A refuge is a safe place, somewhere to retreat to, to rest and recuperate, to find safety and sanctuary, to be cared for and tended. A refuge is where the refugee flees to, to find solace, leaving all behind, coming without to find all within, to escape from menace and danger. The Lord is my refuge, He is all I need, beyond my own comfort provision, beyond what I think I need. The Lord is my refuge, my safe place, where none can defeat me, where He is my champion, my source of all I need, my joy. The refuge of the Lord is a modulation from the atonality of the world’s chaos to the sublime and ethereal chorus of angels. The door to the refuge has no code for entry, has no exclusions. It welcomes all and banishes fear, shame, suspicion, inadequacy and replaces what has been stolen with new, prized-more-than-gold substitutes. The refuge of the Lord is the glimmer in the storm, the quenching to thirst, the warmth in the chill, the reassurance in the doubt, the restoration in the destruction, the affirmation in hopelessness, the surety in wondering, the steadfastness in wandering, the safety-net in the fall, the lifting up after the tumble, the push forward in the stasis, the melody in a tone-deaf world, everything when there is nothing. Expression when words have gone. Fiona Gormley 11th June 2022 Arise Conference Portstewart