Exploring the Psalms
Refuge, Rest and Remembrance
Exploring the Psalms
Exploring the Psalms
Holidays, a time of rest and relaxation. A time to catch up on some reading!
One of my 'chosen' reads this summer was a novel set around the time of 'The
Great War'. It seemed appropriate - we were touring in Northern France and
Belgium and hoped to visit Picardy and the Somme.
The main character in the novel had a great gift - that amazing ability to
remember and recite text, be it poetry, fiction, a play, scripture. His great
childhood friend often used to ask him to recite certain passages and would
listen enthralled, amazed at the ease with which he did this. This friend
didn't have this gift and sadly neither do I. However . . . with one small
exception . . . if something is set to music it helps me recall the words. And
so it is with today's Psalm.
My first recollection of this (and several other Psalms and also a few
paraphrases) was at primary school when we sang the Metrical Psalms. I always
associate the tune 'Stroudwater' played, the tune with Psalm 46. This is still
how I recall this Psalm
God is our refuge and our strength,
in straits a present aid;
Therefore although the earth remove,
We will not be afraid:
Though hills amidst the seas be cast;
Though waters roaring made,
And troubled be; yea, though the hills
By swelling seas do shake
Just a few days prior to going on holiday, the soul space team had a meeting
in which we discussed this forthcoming session and its topic. We settled on the
Psalms and suddenly Psalm 46 popped into my head - that would be my choice!
There would be plenty time to think about it on return from holiday. As you
will hear, not quite the way it worked out.
What I've always loved about this Psalm is its strength, assurance, hope. As
the advert for a certain fence paint says "it does what it says on the tin
. . ." This Psalm does just that: no ifs, buts or maybes. No matter what
the trouble or situation God is there, our refuge and strength. A place of
safety and sanctuary.
Even in the midst of earthquakes, tsunamis, other such natural disasters or
wars, God is there offering his promise of refuge and strength.
For us here today in the UK these are not likely to trouble us, but for many
others in our world, there is always a constant fear of such a threat to their
existence, as was the case in Nepal earlier this year, and much more recently
in Pakistan, both areas affected by earthquakes.
In the midst of the battlefield, the earth also moves, as was the case of
the Lochnagar Crater. This manmade mine crater was the largest mine crater on
the Western Front in WW1. Its explosion by the British marked the start of the
Battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916 and it remains today a stark reminder of
that horrendous time.
As we visited Contalmaison to pay our respects at the cairn to commemorate
McCrae's Battalion, the words of Psalm 46 came to me. I hoped that those young
soldiers were able to recall these words, that God was their refuge and
strength even as the earth exploded all around them in the 'hell' of the
As the mother of a son, it haunts me to think that if he and all his friends
had gone off to war just like the boys did with McCrae, how many of them would
have returned. At this time of All Saints, All Souls and Remembrance, this
Psalm reminds us of that eternal city where God is in the midst and his saints
have found their eternal rest. We're also reminded that God is the peacemaker
and causes wars to cease.
The holiday continued, more rest and relaxation although with constant
reminders of war, the many plaques and signs indicating the cemeteries and
memorials to all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Soon it was time to
make our way north and head to our ferry port at Calais.
Aware during the holiday of the worsening situation at the port, due
initially to a ferry strike but escalating to involve increasing numbers of
migrants attempting to cross the Channel illegally, we wondered if we would get
our scheduled ferry, however were assured it was running.
At the start of our holiday, arriving at Calais several days before, whilst
aware of increased security and rather a lot of fencing and razor wire, there
wasn't much sign of the migrants. Heading east along the coast to Belgium,
there were some glimpses of possible encampments amongst the scrubland but not
much else to see. On this homeward journey this became more apparent.
The area known as 'the Jungle' now was more visible. Thousands of migrants
live in this camp outside Calais, after fleeing bloody conflicts in nations
including Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen as well as oppressive regimes in
countries such as Eritrea. The conditions in this camp are squalid. Make shift
tents and shelters made using others rubbish and refuse.
The migrants themselves became more visible, walking, running in the verges
alongside the road, making their way towards the port. As we drove on, in our
'second home' (albeit on wheels) increasing feelings of guilt, anger and
frustration began to bubble up within.
Surely, no one willingly chooses to live like this? What must it be like to
risk everything to try and find a safe, better life away from war, torture,
On arriving home, the news just seemed to be about more razor wire
surrounded fences, more police - what were France and the UK doing to stop the
people traffickers? Where was compassion, understanding and help to those in
such a plight?
Things were happening however on both sides of the channel - local churches
in Calais and Kent were involved in helping the migrants or as it seemed more
and more were calling them, refugees. Those seeking refuge and sanctuary.
'Our own' Sally Magnusson and the BBC provoked outrage in some quarters by
presenting a 'Songs of Praise' from 'the Jungle', featuring the Church of St
Michael made by the Eritreans - a sanctuary of rejected wooden pallets, plastic
Things began to escalate and soon ever increasing numbers of refugees were
pouring into other areas of the Mediterranean and Europe.
In September, shopping in the Co-op in Ballater where we were gathered for a
family celebration, a newspaper front page caught my eye. A picture of a small
boy, washed up on a beach . . . not much older than our much loved, grandson,
caused me to exit the shop in tears. Is that what it takes to bring home the
plight of refugees?
God is our refuge and strength and we are called to be his kingdom on earth.
We are His hands, His feet, His voice. What can we do as a church and as
individuals in this situation?
Christian Aid is celebrating its 70th Anniversary this month. It was set up
by the churches in response to the refugee crisis after WW2. This latest crisis
looks like being even greater than that.
'Refuge, Rest and Remembrance'
.. an apt title for this time in
November, but also strangely apt for that holiday in June.
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