Co-Written by current students and Board of Trustee members at Union Presbyterian Seminary
You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot. Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation. Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Agnes: Having served congregations with outreach ministries among people with few possessions and no long lasting address, I cannot hear the word “shelter” without first thinking very concretely. I think of a place with a roof and walls that allows people to come in out of the cold. I think of a place in Atlanta my family frequented when our children were young to teach them about serving others as a way of following Jesus. I hear the word shelter and I think of warmth and food and cots on the floor, and I envision countless faces of people coming in off the streets with whom, for a time, I have shared precious space on a cold winter evening.
Laura: I remember the first time I experienced an overnight shift in my hospital chaplaincy internship. Several traumas came in that evening and after each one, I’d pray silently for God’s shelter in the midst of each person’s pain. I remember leaving that day and immediately going to the library to check out over twelve books on various theologians’ understandings of God’s presence in the midst of crisis and pain. I craved solace in the voices of others who knew that pain was an inescapable reality of mortal life. Though I found several systematic responses to such a dilemma seeking understanding, it was the Psalms that truly became my foundation of a faithful response to the lamentations of the trauma bay. A series of cries to the Lord is found in the same collection as songs that proclaim solid foundation of God’s promise and God’s shelter with God’s people. It was at this intersection of pain and assurance that my faith found some sense of understanding, that God was and is in the midst of both, our longings and our joys.
Agnes and Laura: Oftentimes we as mortal beings rely too heavily on our own resources for refuge. What does it mean to trust God to protect us from danger and harm? In his commentary on Psalms, Professor James Mays noted that to call upon God as our shelter and refuge is to place real trust in God for security from all threatening dangers. In this Lenten season, may you seek the Lord as your shelter and refuge, as one who answers our call. Breathe in and out, recognizing that despite our tendency to build our own shelter under our own security blankets, the Lord still provides the foundation for our whole being. In the wilderness, let us ponder the ways that Psalm 91 invites us to think deeply about what it means to claim God as our shelter, our refuge, and our dwelling place.
In that spirit, let us pray together…
Lord, in the business of our day to day lives, You are our refuge. In you, we trust.
In our joys and celebrations, You are our refuge. In you, we trust.
In our pains and lamentations, You are our refuge. In you, we trust.
In the face of the pains of this world, You are our refuge. In you, we trust.
In the journey of this Lenten season, You are our refuge. In you, we trust.
In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, You are our refuge. In you, we trust.
In the shelter that is the kingdom of God made known on Earth, You are our refuge. In you, we trust. Amen.
Laura Kelly is as final level M.Div. student at Union Presbyterian Seminary. Laura has served on the Ministry Team at Montreat and currently interns at The Gayton Kirk Presbyterian Church in Richmond, VA. Having completed her Clinical Pastoral Education at VCUHS, Laura is excited to complete a CPE Residency following graduation this summer.
The Rev. Agnes W. Norfleet (M. Div. 1986) is pastor of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr, PA