As the story goes, a smattering of years over 2000 ago, a young Jew and his wife sought refuge in an inn in the town of Bethlehem–a donkey-back journey of about 4 days south-southwest from Jerusalem. Instead, they found a place in a stable.
Many stories have been written–mostly fictional–of exactly what went down that night. But we do know that out of this story came a man who, from that day to this, has been both worshipped and villified, studied and parodied.
Assuming the historical record is at least somewhat correct, what we know about this man is that his life was one of refuge sought, refuge offered, refuge lost.
As a child he was taken even further from home–to Egypt–where his parents sought refuge from an edict that would have taken the boy’s life. His teachings offered spiritual refuge from the troubles of a broken and frightening world. In the end, any refuge he might have taken he refused–he gave himself up to authorities who, ultimately, put him to death. In the very act of dying, he secured a refuge for his mother, beseeching one of his friends to take care of her after he was gone. His ardent followers believe that his life, his teachings, and his death, have provided a way by which we might seek refuge from death itself.
This month, Christians the world over remember his birth in that stable a smattering over 2000 years ago. And now, as then, people seek refuge anywhere they can find it.
A friend of mine once told me that even the most broken and downtrodden people–even the most hateful and unlovable–in our lives are doing what we are all doing–seeking a refuge in some kind of happiness. The trouble is that some of us seek happiness in things, ideas, or habits that eventually bring only emptiness or misery. The spiteful old woman in the apartment across the way may be achieving that through her sense of self-superiority over others. The guy sleeping in a cardboard box in the alley may have once thought he could find it in a needleful of heroine.
Do any of us know where we can find the refuge of true happiness?
Psychologist and lecturer, Tara Brach, wrote: “True refuge is that which allows us to be at home, at peace, to discover true happiness. The only thing that can give us true refuge is the awareness and love that is intrinsic to who we are.”
This month’s stories are about people seeking refuge in different ways. Some find it, some don’t. Some have help along the way, some must find their own path. All face obstacles, because without obstacles we wouldn’t need refuge. Nor would we have much of a story, because that’s what stories are–characters facing obstacles and sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, always getting under our skin and into our hearts.
Like young Pigeon, whose older sister wanders, and who looks for solace in her makeup and her hand holding his. Na, who finds refuge in music as her son and husband come to blows in front of her. Mrs. O’Reilly, who, in the wake of unspeakable tragedy, looks for peace in thoughts of what might have been. And, finally, a refugee of a different sort, but whose experience speaks for all refugees everywhere.
We hope you enjoy, and that you find peace and happiness this season and always.