Finding shelter, light in the dark

As the dark draws in, the loneliness of this new lockdown can seem oppressive. Many people are taking comfort from the twinkling fairy lights of Christmas, bringing decoration to their homes early this year. Others cannot afford this joy. Early dusk and dark nights for some will mean curling up by the fire to escape the gloom; for others it means more cold and uncertainty.

But for all of us, the need for shelter intensifies at this time of year. And we need to find light in the darkness. Sarah’s photo of a sparkling heart in the dark epitomised this for me. 

Last week I read a passage from a new favourite author, Padraig O’Tuama, in his book, Finding Shelter.

This particular paragraph struck me as I prepared for Remembrance Sunday, but I felt it equally relevant for this time of year, and particularly as we negotiate this second lockdown, with the added loneliness and isolation of winter.

“[there is an Irish Gaelic proverb] Ar scath a cheile a mhaireas na daoine. It is in the shelter of each other that the people live. It is also in the shadow of each other that the people live. It could also mean: our shelter can be our shadow; or, even, what shelters me may shadow you. … Scath is related to a Norwegian world for ‘mist’. … I wonder if the wisdom in this proverb demands a kind of discernment, a peering through the blur of ordinary living to decide when closeness overshadows and when it protects.”

Shelter and shadow – these are emotive words. We need to find shelter in life. Shadow can be most welcome when the burning sun beats down upon us. But the shadow of darkness can be troubling indeed.

O’Tuama’s words called to my mind a phrase from Psalm 91:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Words of comfort in troubling times. We all need shelter, a place to rest and find refuge. And I thought it interesting that the Psalmist should mingle the words ‘shelter’ and ‘shadow’ as O’Tuama had.

And then, a few days later, I was watching someone talking about books. How a book when it rests open on a surface looks rather like a tent. A place of shelter, of dwelling. And I wondered about how what we read can give us shelter for our minds and emotions, a place to grow and transform in safety. Or how words can, when misused, cast terrible shadows in our minds, and then in our actions.

This winter, surely we need shelter more than in most years. We need to find shelter within one another, even as we are in isolation. Our very loneliness, as we struggle together against this virus, has the possibility to bring us together in unexpected and transformative ways.

And in those very loneliest times, when the shadow seems to fall most heavily, perhaps we can find shelter in God. The God who is our refuge, our strength. A very present help in trouble, as the hymn sung to the “Dambusters” tune says.

May we find shelter in God, and in one another, during these dark and cold months. May we offer shelter to one another. May we provide shade for those who need it. And may we help one another to live and thrive; a heart of light shining through the dark to help us find our way through the mists of uncertainty and not knowing.

With peace and blessing,
Revd. Talisker

Photo courtesy of SutherlandRoweImages