Friday, August 14, 2015

Taking Refuge

"A Triple Digit Day"
- excessive heat warning- 

The National Weather Service has issued an “excessive heat warning” for the desert region where I live. It’s supposed to get up to 120 degrees over the next few days so I guess that is rather “excessive.”

Along with all the warnings about restricting outdoor activity and drinking plenty of water, I took special note of one advisory that was issued this morning about precautions people need to take if they decide to go out on one of the many wilderness trails: People are first and foremost warned to never hike alone, be sure to walk in a group or if you don’t know the trails, walk with a guide. People are also told to carry a map and a compass with them at all times because not all the trails are marked and some are hard to follow. Finally, those who will be venturing out onto the wilderness are warned to be sure that they take plenty of water along with them (not just a little bottle - usually a gallon per person).  

The hiking advisory warns that if you aren’t careful and don’t take these precautions, not only will you get lost but you may actually die along these trails especially in this “excessive heat.”

As a matter of fact, over the past few weeks several people have died on the trails. Sometimes tourists come out here and act like “lone rangers. Some folks take little or no water on the way and are totally unaware of how arduous and challenging the desert can be even for accomplished hikers; and within a matter of an hour or so they get totally disoriented - it all happens very quickly. Many get lost, some suffer heat stoke, some have even died along the way.

I’ve been thinking about the importance of taking proper precautions for walking in the desert. For me, this is a perfect icon of the journey we all make through the excessive heat in the wilderness of life:  never walk alone, travel in groups, rely on a guide, carry maps and a compass because life’s trails can get tricky at times, and be sure to keep hydrated along the way, otherwise you will surely get lost, you may even wither away.

The other day I came across a term that is used in a ceremony for welcoming new members into the Buddhist tradition. The potential Buddhist pledges a readiness and willingness to take “refuge” as they walk in the wilderness of life:

I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the teachings (the Dharma).
I take refuge in the community of my fellows (the Sangha).

I really like the term “taking refuge” it seems to me to be a wonderful phrase that can apply to any single one of us on the path of any spiritual journey through the wilderness of life.

On this “excessively hot” day in the desert I think of my own journey of faith.  I am a “Follower of Jesus,” and so I take refuge in the Christ, his teachings about compassion, kindness and respect for human dignity are a compass that point the way; and I take refuge in my relationships with my fellow travelers.  I do not travel alone, I rely on the people I love, I rely on the wisdom and guidance of others - not just fellow Christians but all those many other wise teachers and guides of the many paths who show me the way through the wilderness.

Sometimes people come out to this desert and think they don’t need to rely on anyone other than themselves - this usually gets them into big trouble. So it is with many people today in this age of “rugged individualism.” Lots of folks see themselves as “lone rangers;” but, as I see it they walk on shaky ground because life is a desert wilderness and if we try to walk it alone we shall surely get lost and even die.

There is a line from an ancient hymn that has been sung by Christians over the ages. It celebrates the solace we receive in the heat of the day when we “take refuge” in God, refuge in each other’s wisdom, refuge in each other’s fellowship.

I think about this hymn as I begin this day when an “excessive heat warning” has been issued in the wilderness

O most blessed light divine,
Shine within these hearts of thine.
In our labors rest most sweet,
Grateful coolness in the heat

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