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When you think of the word "safety", what image comes to your mind? I think it is different for everyone. Often we hear the phrase, “there is safety in numbers.” I suppose in some cases that’s true, but I have often felt very alone while in the midst of numbers of other people. What if you find yourself in the midst of a crowd with whom you disagree? You may feel safe as in no physical harm may come to you, but at the same time are you comfortable, peaceful, and at ease?

I’ve recently begun the practice of Lectio Divina. Defined as sacred or divine reading, it is a way of praying over and reading scripture with more intentional focus. This can be useful with any reading, but I have found it particularly helpful in my daily devotional time. I feel like I have succeeded with this practice when I notice God saying something unexpected to me, totally out of the blue. A lot of times, I feel like I insert words and thoughts as coming from God, when in reality they are my own. But the times when I am hit between the eyes with something unexpected, I know it couldn’t have come from me. First of all, because it’s usually not congratulating me on my fine methods of devotion and interpretation - my search for affirmation. More often it is convicting. Second, unlike the negative thoughts that often creep into my mind, these are times when I see myself through God’s eyes. With love and gentleness, God will often show me the errors of my ways, or ways in which I should be looking at my own life before judging the lives of others. This may not always be pleasant to face, but it is always peaceful and comforting, because I am in a ‘safe place’ with God. Safe to be and find myself - protected and understood, even while being corrected.

Sometimes when I look out over vast, open spaces, such as a beautiful green meadow or field, I have an emotional response. This has become more pronounced and seems to be directly related to the lack of green space available while living in a city full of chaos as one large building or highway after another immediately fills any possibility of open, breathable space. The reverse of the responses I have when I enter the openness are the more negative emotions that surface when I find myself stuck in the middle of another traffic jam. My blood pressure rises, very ungodly thoughts and phrases enter my mind and often exit my mouth, and I have a hard time finding any peace in these situations even when I pray. I recall that I used to explain to our daughters that I was only irritated because I was trying to be or to get them to someplace on time. One of my daughters wisely (though it was maddening to hear at the time) commented that that wasn’t it. She dared me to “check myself” after I was retired or not carrying them hither and yon to see if I could accept the traffic calmly and without incident. Well, of course she was correct - as the traffic situations continue to worsen, so does my response (physical, mental, emotional) to them.

In one of my recent devotional readings from Openings, by Rev. Larry Peacock, there was a reference to Psalm 31, verses 7-8. He states, “these verses offer thanks and praise for love and protection, and for placing us not in cramped, narrow confines but in the freedom and openness of a ‘broad place.’” That is a perfect description of my desire and my response. Someone once told me they felt much safer in crowded, busy areas than in large, vacant ones. She felt too vulnerable in the open. This makes sense, but I feel the opposite. For me, there is freedom and safety in the open spaces. I am free to go and be.

Maybe this is why I like the idea of driving a race car. There aren’t any obstacles - I can just go. Freedom to move forward without hesitation, to explore with reckless abandon and find what is waiting beyond. My father was the only driver I completely trusted enough that I could fall asleep in the car. I trust myself (though I don’t fall asleep!) because I study driving and traffic patterns, and have learned how to survive driving in Atlanta. Mostly, I learned from my father the importance of driving defensively, anticipating other drivers’ actions and reactions, and knowing and respecting your car’s capabilities and limitations.

When I remove the clutter and stress from my thoughts and activities, when my mind and heart are wide open like the spaces in which I so desire to be, only then can I feel and experience the love and safety of being in God’s presence.

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