A refuge is defined as a place where you are sheltered from trouble. A safe place. We all know what it is like to long for this type of protection and in our yearning, we seek illusions of refuge in things that we can control; the next Neftlix episode, the next drink, the next shopping trip.
But what if what we needed in our lives had less to do with the next activity and more to do with stillness? What if we could rediscover the church as a refuge, a place to go to for shelter from the anxieties of the world? A place to worship, be still and know that God is near to us.
Despite our common experience of such longing for steadfastness, it often takes a journey, a life time, and God’s special grace to realize where our true refuge is. I once knew a wise lady, a godly woman in her 70’s, who had a special gift of leading people towards God. She had fought two long battles with cancer earlier in her life. When it came back for the third time, it was too strong. Too late.
A few days after I received the news of her cancer returning, I saw her at church on Sunday. She had grown visibly weaker but still her face was radiant with a sense of joy. When I approached her and shared my grief, she replied, “I’m ready to go home. I can’t wait to be there.” She smiled at me and said, “Meanwhile, shall we go in and worship God? I was waiting for this. Just a little more this week.” That was the last time I saw her. Yet, I still hear her words through the beautiful longing of the psalmist:
“I long to dwell in your tent forever,
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.”
I wonder if what we are being taught over time, that as beautiful as this world is, this isn’t our permanent home. Perhaps life, its challenges and joys, teach us that we are all like refugees in this world awaiting to enter our true home. Until then we live in a place of “already and not yet”.
As we wait in the “not yet” we are called to gather and worship God. As the wise lady I knew once said “Meanwhile, shall we go in and worship God?”. The church is our refuge the in-between space, the meanwhile, in which our longing for our true home becomes sung, prayed, preached, and fulfilled at the table.
For all those of us who are weary and burdened by the troubles of the world, enter a place of refuge. Be still and know that God is the god of the already and the not yet.
Our Director of Music, Aaron Antoon, recently wrote a song reflecting on the idea that we come and go from people’s lives, but when we’re amidst loved ones, regardless of where we are, we’re home. Our hope is that the church and its people can be this for each other.