In Psalm 46 we are instructed to sing, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. God is in the midst of her. She shall not be moved.”
It feels like our province of Nova Scotia has been facing tragedy after tragedy, blow after blow since COVID-19 hit. Northwood—a long-term care home located in the North End of Halifax, where I and All Nations CRC resides—has now experienced 60 coronavirus-related deaths; on April 18 we lost 23 lives to the deadliest shooting in Canadian history; on April 29 we lost a young woman to a Navy helicopter crash; on May 18 we lost another local resident from the Snowbirds plane crash. Our province is not “glad.” We identify a lot more with Tim Baker’s latest single, “Survivors,” than to Psalm 46.
But as we say in the Street Psalms network, “Grace is like water. It pools up in the lowest places.”
Living in the North End of Halifax, specifically in the towers on Brunswick street, the “lows” are real. One square block—home to the highest percentage of refugees as well as street-involved folks in the city—is one of the low places where people end up unless they can manage to swim out of it.
But it’s the low places where the water flows, and comparatively, where we meet God’s grace. The “Christ hymn” Paul quotes in Philippians 2 shows us the way of Jesus is downward mobility; he moves from the highest place to the lowest place, which happens to be the crux of God’s grace. Prior to this, the Psalmist sings: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth give way.”
When the earth gives way, all other forms of refuge crumble. All the things we cling to that give us a sense of safety, security, and comfort are revealed as illusions, or a vapor (הֶבֶל), as the teacher in Ecclesiastes writes. This is what this season feels like—our forms of refuge are crumbling. Even in my apartment complex, my home, we are not safe from COVID-19 because we share the same doorways, stairwells, and elevators as hundreds of other people, some of whom are the heroes working at Northwood long-term care, grocery stores, Halifax transit, and cleaning services around the city.
Where is the refuge? It is even lower. It is underground. Underneath the danger, the chaos, and the confusion is a River, representing the presence of God who, in Jesus, doesn’t remain as a distant spectator on a throne in the heavenly realm, but enters the lowest places in humanity’s history. When we pray, we are not looking up somewhere at someone untouched by our suffering. Rather, we look down, and into, the ugliest places to find our Creator, the one who lovingly sees us, steeped in our suffering, taking it on, and offering living water that heals us in acknowledgement of our wounds because this God also takes on those wounds. As our various forms of refuge fail us, will we have eyes to see our True Refuge and find security in His arms? Will we find the grace that pools up in the lowest places?
Sam Kamminga lives and surfs in Kjipuktuk, the land of Mi’kma’ki (Halifax, Nova Scotia) where he looks for Jesus in the lowest places of the city and celebrates signs that the Kingdom of God has come.