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Sample Reflection

The image is called “Stream in the Forest” and was painted by Gustave Courbet (1819-1877).

Longing for Refuge

The Psalms have always been a refuge for me. From the time I was able to read, I stole away to my room for solace from the bustle of the household. There in the quiet, I flipped open my Bible, and the pages often opened up ward the middle, to a psalm.

“As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul thirsts for you.” Psalm 42

“O God, you are my God, and I long for you.” Psalm 63

“My heart cries out and my flesh faints for the courts of the Lord.” Psalm 84

As a child, being at the heart of the family felt like both a blessing and a curse – I loved them dearly, but my emotions and thoughts also became mixed up in the midst of the relationships, the happenings, the conflicts, the conversations going on around me. I needed to find my center, my refuge, and I found it in God.

So, I escaped frequently to the quiet of my room, crawling under my covers and breaking open the psalms. These ageless words entered into me – the prayers of ancient people reverberating in my heart, becoming my own. As the deer longs to drink from streams of water, my soul is thirsty for you. O God, you are my God, and I long for you. My heart cries out to be in your presence now.

Meditating on these words, praying these prayers, I slowly found myself once again in the calming presence of God. I knew, somehow, in the depths of my being, that God had heard me, that God cared for me, and that God had met me there. I sat in that blissful place for a few moments, until I heard someone calling me to set the table, or to join the family for a movie, or to get on with whatever I was up to that day. Though it was always hard to leave that serenity, I carried a piece of it with me as I left my room and returned to the rest of my life.

The psalms have been my refuge, as they have been for countless others around the world for thousands of years. It’s incredible to me to think of the universality of this longing to be in God’s presence. For millennia, in a myriad of cultures and time periods, people have longed to find solace in God. They have longed to lay their burdens and concerns into God’s arms so that they might rest more fully in their Creator. We all long for things to be made right in this world, long to be our best selves, long to find our center, long to be at peace within ourselves, with others, and with God. No matter what separates us from each other, we share this deep inner longing to find refuge in God.

Though my longing was met momentarily during those moments of solace, it would always return. Again and again, that longing would return, and I would be called back to that same spot to seek God’s presence once more. As I got older, got married, became a minister, became a mother, it never failed to come back. That longing within me indicated that something was off kilter – that my emotions were overwhelming me, that my thoughts were careening in an unhelpful direction, that events in the world around me were whirling and swirling in a way that left me feeling turbulent inside. But as soon as I noticed that desire to return to God’s presence, and stole away to my quiet place once more, the storm within me began to die down. That longing was a signal for me to seek God again.

We might think of longing as something we want to get rid of – something to be satisfied, quenched, vanquished, gone forever. But I know that my longing has been a gift to me. Every time that longing arises within me and I pay attention to it, I find myself drawn closer to the heart of God. Without that signal, I’m not sure I would have chosen to return so frequently over the years, or found so many quiet moments of much-needed serenity in the midst of the activity of life.

Our longing beckons us to return to our place of refuge, again and again, amid the whirl and swirl of our lives. In that place of refuge, those ancient words resound in us still: As the deer longs for streams of water, so our souls thirst for you. O God, you are our God, and we long for you. Our hearts cry out to be in your presence now.

Ponderings for Your Path

  • Do you recall feeling that sense of longing in your life? If a memory comes to mind, sit with it for a few minutes. What did that longing reveal to you? Did you listen to that longing at the time, and if so, where did that lead you? 
  • What about right now. Do you notice a longing inside of you today? What is it telling you? Is there a way that you can meet that longing now? For example, is your longing nudging you to spend a few minutes centering yourself with God? Or is it pointing you towards a shift in your day-to-day life that will bring you into closer connection with God and with the deeper parts of yourself? 
  • Perhaps take a walk by a stream or river sometime this week, or if you can’t go to one in person, view the video below. Pay attention to the strength of its flow, the trickling sounds, the endless supply of water. How does the stream remind us of God’s unending supply of love, care, attention, and compassion for us? 

Blessing for our Journeys

May we listen to our longings

as we would listen to a dear friend

with attentiveness to the messages they offer 

in what is spoken and unspoken. 

May our longings draw us closer to the stream

of unending love and care,

attention and compassion

that is freely given. 

May our feet take us to that 

life-giving, 

God-given water,

again 

and again

and again. 

Amen.

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