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Practicing Spirituality with Thich Nhat Hanh
An on-demand e-course Led by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat


Taking Refuge in God

Written By Renée Miller

When the world seems overwhelming, or our relationships are conflicted, or we're fearful about our future or regretful of our past, we want to retreat. We want to take refuge in a safe place where all that troubles us will be silenced or forgotten. 

People of faith have always sought refuge in God. The holy texts of every faith tradition affirm the safety that is to be found in the Holy One, and it is to that safety we cling when life seems larger than our capacity to make sense of it. The word refuge actually means a place to flee back to. It is a descriptive definition because it is so real to us.  We know what it is like to feel viscerally the need to “flee back to” the place where we are free from harm, where we are as protected as a fledgling sparrow under her mother's wing.

But there is always the danger of taking refuge in our notion of God rather than in God's self, as Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us in this talk.

We know how this works.  We worry about something, or feel overwhelmed by some aspect of life, and we bring up the idea of God in our mind and ask God to take care of our problem. Since there is not a palpable, visible "God-being" before us, we rely on our notion of God to bring us peace and safety.

Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that our reliance should instead be in the reality of God in the present moment. When we take an in-breath, or when we release our out-breath, or when we take a step, we are taking refuge in God because the only truth of God we can know is what is to be found in this present moment. 

Another way to think of this is through the image Jesus gave us in John 10. He said, “I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:9,10b)

When we breathe or when we walk with attention in the present moment, we are entering that gate right in that moment.  The safety and peace are not something to hope will be granted at a future time—they are available to us right then.

When life has left us feeling as battered and worn as a weathered fence that has seen too many winters, our search for God needs to be grounded in the now. Otherwise, the seeking of God becomes little more than a mental exercise wherein we attempt to convince ourselves that God is present and real.

If instead of seeking to materialize our notion of God, we simply take a step with our foot and take an in-breath, we will find that we are taking refuge in God right then and there. Surprisingly, we won't feel the need to convince ourselves of anything. We will simply feel the presence of God falling on us as peacefully as soft rain.