This week I feel drawn to talking about the idea of refuge. It’s easy to think of a refuge or shelter as a place of failure and fear: it’s where homeless people go, where women who are escaping abusive partners go. They are necessary, vital, places and we need more of them. But if we are not truly broken by circumstances, if we are not homeless or being physically abused, it is easy to think that we don’t need to take refuge. Or that any desire within us for this is a sign of weakness. But in many traditions it is a treasured concept. The universality of this idea suggests it is pointing to something of deep value to us. We are perhaps most familiar with the Buddhist idea of taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha – the teacher, the teachings, and the community that has gathered around them. But you find it in Jainism and Hinduism too. You find it in Christianity and Islam – taking refuge in God, in Allah.
For those of us who pride ourselves on independence of thinking, on our freedom from the chains of dogma, the idea that we should take refuge seems to go against the grain, as if we are being infantilised – treated like children – or are being urged to take on a kind of victim consciousness, which needs protection.
But what if we draw not on our beliefs about religion and its dogmas, but on our experience of life itself? The refuge then becomes the cluster of trees that gives shelter to the sheep on a windswept hill, the mountain hut that you fall into cold and exhausted when trekking, the arms of a lover who comforts you when you are hurting. I think of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush singing that wonderful song ‘Don’t give up’ which depicts the giving and acceptance of refuge so movingly:
The world can seem so cold and bleak sometimes, we all need to be able to seek refuge – to feel safe, to find again our centre, our soul, our brothers and sisters, our connection with the All.