Sunday, January 17, 2010


An internet dictionary defines "refuge" as:

▸ noun: a shelter from danger or hardship
▸ noun: something or someone turned to for assistance or security ("Took refuge in lying")
▸ noun: a safe place
▸ noun: act of turning to for assistance

In times of danger or tumult or uncertainty or sorrow -- where every cell seems to cry out for relief -- who would not seek out or pray for some refuge, some easing, some shelter, some release?

Buddhists, for example, seek "refuge" in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. But you don't have to be Buddhist to know the longing, to pray the prayer, to seek the relief. Whatever is going on is 'unbearable' and the cry ascends to the heavens, "Get me out of here!"

Refuge -- the time or place or circumstances that will ease what is currently not at ease. Sometimes relief occurs. Sometimes not.

But for anyone who surveys the landscape of multiple refuges sought and attained, one thing becomes clear: There is no abiding refuge. In fact, the refuge sought today may turn into the very time or place or circumstance from which we seek refuge tomorrow.

No refuge. Everything changes and there is no refuge. In theory, "refuge" is hopeful and fine. In practice, there is no hiding place, no perfect safety net, no refuge that will put a signed-sealed-and-delivered period on the sentences that life can dish up. People can work up quite a verbal and philosophical sweat denying this fact, but anyone who has been around the block a couple of times knows it is a fact. In theory, "refuge" is delicious; in practice it falls short.

And yet -- facts be damned -- still we seek refuge. Refuge in relationships, refuge in employment, refuge in location, refuge in religion or philosophy, refuge in a new pair of shoes. It seems impossible to meet the facts as they are: That would be too hopeless, too grim, too imprisoned ... let us continue to seek refuge!

But I would say that the facts offer a real chance at finding a real refuge. Since resistance is futile in actual-factual, walking-around life, perhaps it is the resistance itself that keeps our refuge ever at a distance, never at home.

What are things like in an unintended silence? What are things like in an uncontrived sneeze? What are things like when a pregnant woman is pregnant? What are things like when laughter just explodes? What are things like when the sun goes down? What are things like when the tears won't stop? If such things are inescapable, the only escape is to take refuge in them, don't you think?

And then the question arises -- in practice ... never mind philosophy and psychology and religion -- who could possibly take refuge here? Who could take refuge in a place where there was no refuge? Who could possibly be saved or salved?

These are the places of refuge ... where no one could be saved. This is the abiding refuge ... a refuge that is no refuge, but simply the breath, coming and going and coming and going, or the sun going down, or the laughter filling laughter to the brim.

This is freshness -- the freshness that was all anyone sought in seeking refuge.

Is it easy to talk about and hard to do? Sure, in one sense it takes practice and attention and responsibility and it is hard to seek out such refuge. But since it is inescapable, what could be easier?

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