at the refuge
When they arrived they were very withdrawn. They didn't have much energy. They were quiet and on edge. But slowly, they've begun to talk and to play, they've started to plan for the future.
In a quiet backstreet, there is a hidden place of safety for women and children who have gathered their courage to leave a violent home. It is one of a number of refuges across Buenos Aires, Argentina and the world. Because domestic violence continues in every country: in cities and villages, in wealthy homes and poor ones.
For the women and children at the refuge, the process of recovery is long and with no guarantees. They need to draw on their desires for a new life and the support of the shelter's workers. And they need that gift of space.
In the biblical tradition, a refuge can be a shady tree, the wings of a bird or a designated city. It is linked with the strength and protection of a rock, a great tower or a shield. Most of all, the Bible claims it is God who is our refuge.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
God should be a safe space, a place of welcome and inclusion. A place where we can rest and find our way again. With God, we should be able to recover from hurts and find strength to re-create ourselves.
The images of God we grow up with are varied. Not all are good for us. Not all are graceful. Sometimes our images of God collude with violence, leading us to accept violence in our lives. Can we ever say God is a women's refuge, knowing how much harm has been caused by patriarchal teaching about God? Perhaps.
God seeks us out,
a whisper from a friend,
"He should not hit you.
There is a place I know about."
God nurtures our gasp of courage,
as we lie in the dark and promise,
"Enough, I must go.
I must leave."
God mets us at the door,
with warm drinks and fresh clothes.
"You will be safe here,
You are not alone."
God laughs and smiles
playing catch, painting bright colours.
We recast our dreams,
and renew our hope.
This God is my strong refuge, and has made my way safe.(2 Samuel 22.33)
May it be so.
Refuge and Women's Aid support those suffering from domestic violence in the UK.