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Taking refuge during challenging times

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I’ve been feeling weary recently. Worn down. Tired by a perception of personal incompetency when it comes to “innovation,” “creativity,” and “adaptive leadership.”

These concepts, useful at times, can also function as euphemisms for “life is hard, figure it out.” Yesterday I found myself singing a variation of the great spiritual “There is a Balm in Gilead.” Instead of declaring, “There is a balm in Gilead,” I questioned, “Where is the balm in Gilead?” And then I took out my Bible, turned to Jeremiah who spoke about Gilead, and realized my plaintive song lyric echoed Jeremiah’s words:

“For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,

I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

Is there no balm in Gilead?

Is there no physician there?

Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?

O that my head were a spring of water,

and my eyes a fountain of tears,

so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” (8:21-9:1)

The weeping prophet encourages me to have a good cry every once in a while. Those tears express profound grief, some of which is mine and some of which I absorb, gladly, from my work as a parish priest.

But the tears also release the frustration that builds up regularly as I lose my footing in the swirl of constant change, disappointment and surprise that is part of our common life.

Lest I indulge the weariness too long, God graced me with a counter-point spiritual calling me beyond lament: “Walk together, children, don’t you get weary…there’s a great camp meeting in the promised land.” The genius of this spiritual is that it cushions the acknowledgement of weariness between two antidotes: companionship along the way (“walk together, children”) and a hopeful vision of a simultaneous reality where all is well (“there’s a great camp meeting in the promised land”).

I wonder where you find balm for your soul? Where you find companionship and hope? Where do you find refuge from the troubles and trials of life these days? I find it in our Sunday morning worship, surrounded by other pilgrims looking for fellowship, meaning and love.

I find it in early-morning silence before the rest of my family awakens. I find it as I dive deeper into local challenges, like addressing food insecurity and my small contribution to the homelessness task force. There is balm in Gilead — I believe that with all my head — but sometimes I need refuge to feel it in my heart.

Joslyn Schaefer is the rector at Grace in the Mountains Episcopal Church.

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