Refuge: A Definition and Two Spiritual Exercises

One million Armenians were forced to leave their homes in Anatolia in 1915, and many either died or were murdered on their way to Syria.

In this post I explore the definition of the word ‘refuge,’ and describe two spiritual exercises that arose out of that exploration. The word ‘refuge’ can be used as a noun or a verb. The following quotation gives the noun definition as found in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (Unabridged):

1 ref∙uge ‘re(,)fyüj. esp. before a syllable-increasing suffix -_fyә’j n -s [ME, fr. MF, fr. L. refugium, fr. refugere to run away, avoid, escape, fr. re– + fugere to run away, flee — more at FUGITIVE] 1: shelter or protection from danger or distress < seek ~ in flight > < take ~ in the home of a friend > < a house of ~ > 2a: a home for those who are destitute, homeless, or in disgrace b: a sanctuary for birds or wild animals c: a mountain hut or cabin erected to serve as sleeping quarters for mountaineers d: a safety zone for pedestrians crossing a street in heavy traffic: SAFETY ISLAND 3: a means of resort for help in difficulty : RESOURCE < patriotism is the last ~ of a scoundrel – Samuel Johnson > < The ivory tower . . . as a place of ~ from unpleasant reality – H. N. Russell >

As I contemplated the five verbal examples embedded in this definition; with their deep roots and entanglements, their interior groans and sighs, and their uncertain habitations and delights; I sensed within me a welter of feelings and impressions; some strong, some weak, but all profoundly human.

  • Seek refuge in flight
  • take refuge in the home of a friend
  • a house of refuge
  • patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel
  • The ivory tower . . . as a place of refuge from unpleasant reality

As I continued my contemplation of the full definition, two spiritual exercises came to mind—exercises for me to carry out over the next few days:

Spiritual Exercise #1: Meditate on the five verbal examples and write a paragraph expressing how they touch on the life I am now living.

Spiritual Exercise #2: Explore the three cross-references appearing in the definition―FUGITIVE, SAFETY ISLAND, and RESOURCE—and write a paragraph expressing how they touch on the life I am now living.

NOTE: In an upcoming post, I will include some notes on the nature and character of ‘spiritual exercise’ as I intend it in this context and throughout this blog.

We Are All Refugees Now.

Greeks fleeing the Destruction of Psara in 1824 (painting by Nikolaos Gyzis).

“Our Gallant Ship” is now entering its second year. During its first year the focus was broad and comprehensive, covering climate science, politics, mitigation, activism, population, and much more.

In this second year the focus will be much tighter and will take the title of this entry as its central existential focus and reality: We are all refugees now.

The Only Courage Required of Us

In Pierre Hadot’s little book, “The Present Alone is Our Happiness,” he says: “I have always conceived of philosophy as a transformation of one’s perception of the world.” This sentiment is one I share with him, in philosophy but also in art. The kinds of art that interest me are those that aim at just this same conception. They are “conceived as a transformation of one’s perception of the world.” My own life-long work in art has had this aim and goal.

Pierre Hadot (1922-2010)

As “Our Gallant Ship” enters its second year, this is the goal I would like to set out front. During its first year, 2019, I published much about climate change, climate science, and all the various political and social dynamics that surround and (often) envelope it. But, along the way, back in May, something happened to me, something spontaneous and on an altogether different level of experience. This experience was so strong that, for a number of months, I did not know what to do or how to proceed. So I paused. I paused for a long time, sensing that, to be honest with myself, I needed to withdraw until I had a better understanding of how to move forward.

Though I have spoken about this with very few people, I will now speak about it openly. Beginning with my next post, I will explore many of the issues that have occupied my thoughts and explorations over the past few months.

The following words from Rainer Maria Rilke speak directly to the point:

We must accept our existence as completely as possible; everything, even what is inconceivable, is to become possible in it. Basically, the only courage required of us is to be face up to the strange, the marvelous, and the inexplicable. . . . The fear of the inexplicable has impoverished not only the existence of the individual, but also the relations of person to person, it has taken them away from the river of possibilities, to shelter them in a safe place on the bank.” Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, August, 1904

From this day forward, the winter solstice of 2019, I will begin to steer Our Gallant Ship into this deeper water. I will explore how, given the existential crisis we now face, we can learn to “accept our existence as completely as possible,” and allow “everything, even what is inconceivable” to “become possible in it.”

Rising Seas Could Threaten Three Times More People than Scientists Previously Believed

Ho Chi Minh City, along with the rest of southern Vietnam, “could all but disappear” by 2050.

Bangkok, Thailand, currently home to over eight million people, is under severe threat.

Basra, Iraq, the nation’s second-largest city, “could be mostly underwater” by mid-century.

“Rising seas could affect three times more people by 2050 than previously thought, according to new research, threatening to all but erase some of the world’s great coastal cities.

“The authors of a paper published Tuesday developed a more accurate way of calculating land elevation based on satellite readings, a standard way of estimating the effects of sea level rise over large areas, and found that the previous numbers were far too optimistic. The new research shows that some 150 million people are now living on land that will be below the high-tide line by mid century. Read more . . .

On the Under-Estimation of Climate Change

Climate deniers often accuse scientists of exaggerating the threats associated with the climate crisis, but if anything they’re often too conservative . The quote below is from an article in The Guardian by Dale Jamieson, Michael Oppenheimer and Naomi Oreskes.

“For political leaders and business people, we think it is important for you to know that it is extremely unlikely that scientists are exaggerating the threat of the climate crisis. It is far more likely that things are worse than scientists have said. We have already seen that the impacts of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are unfolding more rapidly than scientists predicted. There is a high likelihood that they will continue to do so, and that the IPCC estimates – that emissions must be rapidly reduced, if not entirely eliminated, by 2050 – may well be optimistic. The fact that this conclusion is hard to swallow does not make it untrue.” Read more . . .

The Usual Pattern: Faster than previously thought

“Greenhouse gases are raising the Earth’s temperature faster than previously thought, according to new climate models due to replace those used in current UN projections − meaning a bigger heat rise by 2100 than thought likely.

“Separate models at two French research centres suggest that by then average global temperatures could have risen by 6.5 to 7.0°C above pre-industrial levels if carbon emissions continue at their present rate, the website phys.org reports.” Read More . . .

Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea

Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, first published as Nonviolence: Twenty-Five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea, is a book by Mark Kurlansky. It follows the history of nonviolence and nonviolent activism, focusing on religious and political ideals from early history to the present. (Source: Wikipedia)

Kurlansky summarizes the Twenty-Five Lessons as follows:

  1. There is no proactive word for nonviolence [in English].
  2. Nations that build military forces as deterrents will eventually use them.
  3. Practitioners of nonviolence are seen as enemies of the state.
  4. Once a state takes over a religion, the religion loses its nonviolent teachings.
  5. A rebel can be defanged and co-opted by making him a saint after he is dead.
  6. Somewhere behind every war there are always a few founding lies.
  7. A propaganda machine promoting hatred always has a war waiting in the wings.
  8. People who go to war start to resemble their enemy.
  9. A conflict between a violent and a nonviolent force is a moral argument. If the violent side can provoke the nonviolent side into violence, the violent side has won.
  10. The problem lies not in the nature of man, but in the nature of power.
  11. The longer a war lasts, the less popular it becomes.
  12. The state imagines it is impotent without a military because it can not conceive of power without force.
  13. It is often not the largest, but the best organized and most articulate group that prevails.
  14. All debate momentarily ends with an enforced silence once the first shots are fired.
  15. A shooting war is not necessary to overthrow an established power, but is used to consolidate the revolution itself.
  16. Violence does not resolve; it always leads to more violence.
  17. Warfare produces peace activists. A group of veterans is a likely place to find peace activists.
  18. People motivated by fear do not act well.
  19. While it is perfectly feasible to convince a people faced with brutal oppression to rise up in a suicidal attack on their oppressor, it is almost impossible to convince them to meet deadly violence with nonviolent resistance.
  20. Wars do not have to be sold to the general public if they can be carried out by an all-volunteer professional military.
  21. Once you start the business of killing, you just get deeper and deeper without limits.
  22. Violence always comes with a supposedly rational explanation, which is only dismissed as irrational if the violence fails.
  23. Violence is a virus that infects and takes over.
  24. The miracle is that despite all of society’s promotion of warfare, most soldiers find warfare to be a wrenching departure from their own moral values.
  25. The hard work of beginning a movement to end war has already been done.