Never displaced from good
When a problem is so widespread, so seemingly colossal, how does one effectively pray?
This article was originally published online on March 10, 2022.
According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, at the end of 2020, 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced either outside their home country as refugees or internally within their nation’s borders (unhcr.org).
This number has become of growing concern right here on my own doorstep. In recent weeks and months, people in Ethiopia, where I am living, are being internally displaced because of an escalating civil war, and some are fleeing to neighboring countries. I have been deeply distressed by the magnitude of this problem and what I have been hearing in the news and in the community around me.
Whenever I am faced with troubling news, I turn to prayer. But when a problem is so widespread, so seemingly colossal, how does one effectively pray? One day, an answer came to me loud and clear in these words about God from Hymn 136 in the Christian Science Hymnal: “Thy presence ever goes with me / And Thou dost give me peace” (Violet Hay, © CSBD). God gave me this answer, which, interestingly, had also helped me pray about my own feelings of displacement some months earlier.
I can never ever go outside of Spirit, God.
On that occasion, these same words came to me when I was feeling a profound sadness at the thought of having to leave a place I deeply love. I had been spending a few months in this place, surrounded by mountains, rivers, and forests, and was facing a return to the busy, overcrowded city where I live the rest of the year. It would be at least a year before I would be able to return, and I wanted to stay. This going and coming had been my experience for over twenty years. I wondered if there would ever be a day when I wouldn’t have to leave the sanctuary of the mountains, or what I call “my happy place”—when I wouldn’t have to experience these cycles of sadness.
It was an experience that cannot possibly compare to the tribulations many are facing today; when I left, I wouldn’t be losing my home, my possessions, or my livelihood. Even so, I felt a sense of loss. I asked God to give me peace and remove the fear and uncertainty of what might happen in the coming year before I could get back again.
I wanted to be healed not only of the sadness, but also of the discontent in living in one place while wanting to be somewhere else. I have moved many times and have lived in some difficult and uncomfortable places as well as some lovely and wonderful places. Wherever I find myself, I try to make it a practice to demonstrate that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Timothy 6:6). But sometimes I have felt a long way from reaching that goal. I so desired to feel peaceful and not anxious, wherever I lived.
Early one morning, while I was praying in my favorite grove of aspen trees, angel messages from God came flooding in and began to lift my thought. I saw that what I was really dealing with was not my unhappiness with a physical location but a misconception, or misunderstanding, of God and of my relationship to Him as my divine Father-Mother. I prayed to gain a more spiritual concept of “place” and to feel the security of knowing I could never actually leave my happy place in God, no matter where I went in this big, wide world. God is not a corporeal being but divine Spirit, and He could never be confined to, or even in, a physical place. Moreover, I am Spirit’s manifestation or reflection; therefore, I am spiritual. So, I can never ever go outside of Spirit. Spirit is everywhere because God is omnipresent. Wherever we are, Spirit is. We live in and of Spirit.
Psalm 139 says: “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me” (verses 7–10).
It became clear to me that we are inseparable from Spirit, as a ray of light is inseparable from the sun. We are always at one with God, good. As if on cue, at that moment the sun rose over the mountain, and I saw the most beautiful sunbeam. It was evident to me that I wasn’t leaving the good I had there in that place that I loved, since good is not personal or confined to any location. God is good; therefore, good is everywhere. God, good, goes with me, and I go with Him because we are one. I was so grateful to know this. It gave me a deep-seated peace that I took with me and have been leaning on in the months since.
I was praying about the displaced people in the world when our family had to evacuate from our house in Ethiopia because of the intensifying civil conflict there.
As it turned out, I needed to listen to those angel messages again not long after we returned to Ethiopia in the fall. At the same time that I was praying about the alarming number of displaced people in the world, our family had to evacuate from our house because of the intensifying civil conflict. We weren’t sure how long we would be gone or what would happen while we were away. Things were unstable, and there was an army advancing on the city. We went to a neighboring country and were gone for two months, until it was deemed safe for us to return.
During that time away, staying in the home of friends, I learned more about what it means to never be outside of Spirit—outside of God, good. When I look back on it now, I see that God, divine Love, had fed and cared for us in the wilderness just as He had Moses and the Israelites in Bible times, and what could have been a difficult experience was instead a blessed time full of the evidence of Spirit’s care and comfort. And when we returned to our house, everything was in order, and the city was untouched, despite dire predictions.
This experience, although just a tiny glimpse of what displaced people and families might face, gives me a greater desire to pray each day for all refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced persons in Ethiopia and worldwide, who have lost their homes, livelihoods, and, in some cases, families. I know that they dwell in the same Spirit I dwell in. I pray to see that all are embraced in the protection and care of this divine Spirit, just as my family and I are. We are each in the place where God is. We can’t ever leave this place—it is our permanent home, where we are always cared for and safe.
This interpretation of Isaiah 45 from Eugene Peterson’s The Message so beautifully encircles the whole world in divine Love’s embrace and promise of deliverance: “Gather around, come on in, all you refugees and castoffs. . . . Turn to me and be helped—saved!—everyone, whoever and wherever you are. I am God, the only God there is, the one and only” (verses 20 and 22).
THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress, represented by Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.