A week from the day we arrived, we went on our first adventure. I should clarify, our first real adventure. We had other adventures like trying to find a grocery shop in a new town, trying to perfectly mix the hot and cold water faucets in a way that avoided both scalding and freezing, and all other manner of the little new adventures that come with living in a new country. But, it was on Friday that we had our first real adventure…
We huddled outside, pink nosed and sleepy eyed, and shuffled on the red bus, off to our day in the world.
First we went to Salisbury. After we arrived, we all stood outside, slightly more awake than before and picked our favorite faces out of the multitude of saints that line the cathedral front. I have always loved statues of saints, and never cease to be amused by their many faces and expressions. We had quite a welcome committee. I smiled and breathed in, thinking about the many guests before me they had welcomed in the hundreds of years they had stood there, resolute and facing the rising sun… waiting for that distant someday.
There was peace there.
At one point during our tour, the Cathedral stopped for morning prayers. The squeaky voice of the priest echoed in the crevices of the cathedral. As the prayers concluded with the Lord’s prayer, I looked over and saw our tour guide forming the words in his mouth, staring at a stained glass window in a peaceful reverie.
“There’s something about this place. It doesn’t matter if you’ve gone and crashed your car, or had a row with your wife. It is right with the world here.”
I think he was right.
Sanctuary: refuge or safety from pursuit, persecution, or other danger; a nature reserve; a holy place; a temple.
Later, we went to Old Sarum. As we bumped along in the bus, I kept thinking about what our guide said. For 700 years the church had been that peace to others. Century after century, the church opened it’s ancient arms to anyone, no matter what class, and blessed them.
Old Sarum is thought to be a English settlement dating from the neolithic times, and it is a wondrous sight to behold. The ruins of the old military camp are set on a tall hill with deep trenches dug in a circle around the hill. There is a causeway into the camp. To be in the camp is to be safe, but to climb its walls… or to fall off of them… is to be broken on a steep fall.
In the times it was established, Old Sarum was a place of refuge. The place we know as the United Kingdom was a countryside beautiful but rife with tribal warfare in the Neolithic period. When things got bloody, the people of the area would retreat to the ancient stronghold, and wait until the danger was over.
As I walked about the ruined walls, I imagine what it must have felt like to retreat to such a place as this. Although I am far separated from the times of warring kings in my nation, I know what it is like seek refuge, and the comfort in realizing there is somewhere safe to go. I remember two summers ago being evacuated during a fire in my city. I remember being packed tightly in buses, only a trashbag full of the first things we could grab, I remember desiring so strongly a refuge.
But in other times, especially these recent times. I find a desire for a more complete refuge, a refuge of the soul. The world sometimes seems an angry and unstable place, the news channels remind us of it every day both with their reports and their attitudes.
Give me and my world a refuge, Oh Lord, from the evils of our day.
I thought of this as I walked around the ruins, suddenly a Psalm I have been memorizing came to my mind. Psalm 46. All at once, I saw the Psalm become embodied in the landscape around me.
1God is our refuge and strength,
[b]A very present help in [c]trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the [d]sea;
3 Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. [e]Selah.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
God will help her [f]when morning dawns.
6 The [g]nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered;
He [h]raised His voice, the earth melted.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord,
[i]Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
9 He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire.
10 “[j]Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the [k]nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.
As we drove away, Old Sarum stood resolute as it had for centuries and millennia before me, and I understood what it meant for God to be my refuge. Old Sarum was the place to run to, the immovable presence, the unchangeable. The Psalmist must have known a reality similar to Old Sarum, that when he looked it called him to remember the truer reality of refuge: The Lord of Hosts. The God of Jacob.
I need this reality in my life. It does seem, especially of late that we live in a world where “the nations make and uproar and the kingdoms totter.” News channels remind us of the ugliness of the world both in their reports and their attitudes. Sometimes I find myself giving into the sense of pervading fear and the perpetual “what-if-this-happened” of the world.
But, as I drove away from Old Sarum, I reminded myself, “The Lord is our Refuge and Strength, a very present help in trouble, THERFORE, I will not fear.”
Deciding to not be afraid seems like an almost contradictory idea. The very nature of fear is that it stealthily sneaks its shadows into our hearts, whispering all the awful could-be’s.
But fear is not true. Though terrible things may happen in the world, and even to me, I need to keep my eyes on the reality of my God who “will be exalted in the nations and in the earth…is with us.” I need to keep my ear tuned to the voice that “speaks and the world melts.
We choose not to fear because there is a lack of fearful things in the world, but because we belong to a God who has overcome.
And that is what Salisbury taught me.
Well, that’s all for this week, friends.
Off to write a paper.