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* (see note below) < patriotism is the last ~ of a scoundrel – Samuel Johnson > < The ivory tower . . . as a place of ~ from unpleasant reality – H. N. Russell >

  • resource 2: something to which one has recourse in difficulty: means of resort in exigency: expedient, stratagem <her usual resource was confession>

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.

Abstract Terms for Human Suffering: Migration, Displacement, Relocation.

No, this is not a list of criminals and rapists; these are suffering people, and they are members of my own family. It’s easy to forget that the terms listed below are abstract descriptions of real human lives, lives filled with disruption, chaos, grief, pain, separation and loss. Lives as valuable as my own.

Even the term “planned relocation” is a term filled with pain and suffering. Imagine yourself as part of a planned relocation project – with no insurance and no moving company!

Each of the terms in the following list can serve as an object of meditation, for each term implies an immense amount of human suffering. If nothing else, it may help us understand the complexity of human dislocation and mobility, and better appreciate what the future holds for the planet – a future that predicts, over the next 30 years, as many as 250 million people will be displaced by climate related factors. The list is derived from Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration.

Climate migrant/migration: Climate migrants are people who move within countries because of climate change-induced migration.

Displacement: Forced removal of people or people obliged to flee from their places of habitual residence.

Distress migration: Movements from the usual place of residence, undertaken when an individual and/or their family perceive that there are no options open to them to survive with dignity, except to migrate. This may be a result of a rapid-onset climate event, other disasters, or conflict event, or a succession of such events, that result in the loss of assets and coping capacities.

Environmental mobility: Temporary or permanent mobility as a result of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect living conditions, either within countries or across borders.

Forced migration: Migratory movement in which an element of coercion exists, including threats to life and livelihood, whether arising from natural or man-made causes (for example, movements of refugees and internally displaced persons as well as people displaced by natural or environmental disasters, chemical or nuclear disasters, famine, or development projects). Forced migration generally implies a lack of volition concerning the decision to move, though in reality motives may be mixed, and the decision to move may include some degree of personal agency or volition.

Immobility: Inability to move from a place of risk or not moving away from a place of risk due to choice.

Internal migration (migrant): Internal migration is migration that occurs within national borders.

International migration (migrant): Migration that occurs across national borders.

Labor mobility: The geographical and occupational movement of workers.

Migration: Movement that requires a change in the place of usual residence and that is longer term. In demographic research and official statistics, it involves crossing a recognized political/administrative border.

Mobility: Movement of people, including temporary or long-term, short- or long-distance, voluntary or forced, and seasonal or permanent movement as well as planned relocation (see also environmental mobility, labor mobility).

Planned relocation: People moved or assisted to move permanently away from areas of environmental risks.

Catholic University of America: Daylong Symposium confronts inequalities of climate change

“Joan Rosenhauer, executive director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, explained how climate change is causing displacement of people at a rate the world has never before experienced. She referred to climate change as a “threat multiplier.”


Climate change is now found to be the key factor accelerating all other drivers of forced displacement.

Joan Rosenhauer

“According to Rosenhauer, 41 people are displaced each minute somewhere in the world due to an extreme weather event. She said that the United Nations Refugee Agency estimated that nearly 250 million people worldwide will be displaced by climate change by 2050.Read more . . .

Internal Climate Migration – Part One: The Mobile and the Trapped

Over the next few weeks, I will be highlighting some of the issues surrounding migration and climate change. Among other resources, I will be drawing on a special 256 page report from the World Bank: Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration. This report addresses development issues of people being forced to move under distress to escape the long-term impacts of climate change. I will begin with the following quote from the report:


“The impacts associated with climate change are already shifting patterns of mobility and will increasingly do so. Because mobility is complex, driven by multiple, interacting processes that vary greatly over space and time, there is no straight line of causation from environmental stress to the movement of people. But climate change–driven pressure can directly and indirectly alter mobility patterns. In some cases, people migrate in an attempt to adapt to climate change. In others, the impacts of climate change will lead to movements under distress, induce displacement, or require planned relocation. Favorable environments attract people who are moving; people do not only move away from places of environmental stress, they are equally likely to move to them. Millions of people will be unable or unwilling to move from areas of environmental stress, rendering them immobile or “trapped”.”

Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration, p. 1-2