From a conversation with Br. David Vryhof, SSJE
The theme of shelter invites us, first of all, to think about places that offer us safety and protection. We want our homes and schools and churches to be places of safety, places of welcome, where people feel that they can be themselves, where they are embraced and loved just as they are, and where they are encouraged to become the persons they are meant to be. We try to create that kind of space here in our monastery: a place where everyone feels welcomed, regardless of their appearance, or their beliefs, or anything else. We want them to know that we believe that they are precious in God’s eyes, that they are created in the image of God, and that they are reflections of God in the world.
But our discussion of shelter goes beyond physical spaces that offer safety and acceptance. We believe with the psalmist that “God is our refuge and our strength.” God is a being in whom we can take refuge, in whom we can find safety, and in whom we discover that we are unconditionally loved. In God we are accepted and loved, just as we are, and given the strength and opportunity to grow into what we can be. Having received this love ourselves, we can then offer it to others: “We love because God first loved us.”
God is our refuge and strength. God is a hiding place. The Scriptures speak of finding protection under the shadow of God’s wings. We all need this from time to time, because life can be difficult, and none of us is exempt from suffering. Life sometimes hurts us, and God says, “I can be that place of refuge for you. I want to welcome you in that way. I want to be a dwelling place where you go to be held and loved, healed and restored to life.” So it’s not only the Church that can be a place of refuge for us, but God, God’s self, can be this refuge.
God also says, “Not only can I be a refuge and a home for you, but I want to dwell in you. I want you to be my home. I want to live within you and make my home in you.” So God promises to dwell in us, to abide in us, just as we can abide in God. In this way, all of us are temples of the Living God. All of us are homes for God because God chooses to dwell in us.
There is, then, a dwelling place within me, a “hermitage within,” to which I can retire whenever I wish. It is a safe place where God is living and active and ready to receive me whenever I need to be there. I can retire to that safe place within myself, no matter what is going on around me. Peace comes from knowing I am safe, and that God is holding me in this very secure inner space.