God: Refuge and Refugee

Syrian refugee children
Syrian refugee children

At noon today I’ll be singing the following two songs (below) at a luncheon hosted by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank held to commemorate World Refugee Day. I’m told the lunch will be simple fare in sober solidarity with the 60 million souls currently internally or externally displaced around the world as a result of wars and environmental disasters. 60 MILLION.

Recently, an executive of MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) told me that the current crisis is easily the worst in the history of their organization.

For Christians, it is worth contemplating the revelation of a profound mystery on offer here. It may well stir and sustain compassion at a level needed to meet the present crisis. And that is simply this: that God—as God is revealed in our scriptures—is both refuge, and refugee.

There are countless references to God as “our refuge” throughout the Old Testament…particularly in the Psalms. In the New Testament, the Christ is born to the world and immediately relegated to refugee status as his family flees the egomaniacal ragings of Herod – a small man with power.

Herods abound still. Malcolm Guite’s brilliant sonnet “Refugee” inspired a song about this situation, which we worked on together and which I recorded a few years back. More recently, on the day that the first Syrian refugees landed on Canadian soil, I wrote another song responding to the day’s psalm: Psalm 62, which references God as “my refuge.”

It is worth contemplating that when refuge seekers meet refuge givers, each gifts God to the other. God greets God. God kisses God. God weeps with God. So much more is going on than what appears on the surface.

Below are the songs. Please note that the second—”Wait Alone in Stillness”—is a work in progress currently being recorded for my new album. It’s in early stages but hopefully is presentable enough.

Feel free to share:

lyric by Malcolm Guite and Steve Bell / music by Steve Bell

We think of him as safe beneath the steeple
Or cosy in a crib beside the font
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want
For even as we sing our final carol
The hounded child is up and on that road
Fleeing from the wrath of someone else’s quarrel
Glancing behind and shouldering their load

While Herod rages still from his dark tower
Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled
The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power
And death squads spread their curse across the world
How terrible, how just and how ironic
That every Herod dies and comes alone
Defenseless as the naked embryonic
To stand before the Lamb upon the throne

I can’t resist the burning urge for turning
This song into a cautionary tale
The Savior whom this song has been discerning
Once occupied, the belly of a whale
To reach as deep as love could ever fathom
To rescue from the tentacles of hell
The wretched, the beleaguered and forgotten
Surprisingly, their enemies as well



music and lyrics by Steve Bell
written on the occasion of the first Syrian refugee families arriving in Canada (Jan. 2016)

On God alone my soul in stillness waits
The glory and the joy of my salvation
The rock on which all form of fury breaks
My stronghold so that I may not be shaken

Wait alone in stillness, O my soul
Wait alone in stillness, wait alone O my soul
The steadfast love of God be all my strength
My refuge
My hope
My elation

The enemies of love in vain rehearse
A plot to undermine the hope of nations
With tongues they bless
But with their hearts they curse
And lie in wait to bait love’s termination

Wait alone in stillness…

We children of the earth are but a breath
On the scales we are lighter than a feather
I believe and I have heard it said
All power belongs to God altogether