Sheltering Each Other

A Ukranian sunflower field. Photo by Roma Kaiuk on Unsplash.

In a poem in his Daily Prayer book, the Irish poet Padraig O Tuama examines an old Irish Proverb, “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine,” which is frequently translated: “In the shelter of one another the people live.”

O Tuama’s poem, however, shows that the phrase has more than one valid translation. It more literally means: “People exist in each other’s shadows.”

O Tuama runs a Christian peace and reconciliation center in Northern Ireland called the Corrymeela Community, which was founded in 1965 to aid all affected by the Northern Irish conflict. He knows intimately that we live in both the shelter and the shadow of one another.

We lived amidst deep interconnection, and I have often noted that an interconnected web of life can be a net to catch us, but it can also be a spider’s weapon to trap and kill.

We are tangled up in one another for good and for ill.

What matters is not so much the fact of our entanglement as our attention to it and our attunement to one another.

Will we be shelter or shadow?

This response to our interdependence, this choice to be shelter or shadow, belongs to each of us.

There is so much in shadow right now.

Russia’s Authoritarian Putin, mad for power and land, seeking to possess, always more, has invaded the growing Democracy in Ukraine. Ukranians are fleeing to Poland, or staying to fight, or sheltering underground. Parents are putting stickers on their children with their blood types, preparing for a possibility I don’t want to let myself imagine.

And here. Here the agents of imperial power are still enforcing our southern border with unimagined violence. And would-be authoritarians in extremist-led state governments are banning books. And trying to remove access to affirming health care from trans kids whose lives depend upon being seen and known as themselves.

And it is all of a piece.

All the work, in the words of my dear friend Dr. Karen Bray, “of soulless men in pursuit of power and influence.” All the logic of empire. All the ways lines are drawn and walls are built to shut out the light that we could be for one another.

There is so much in shadow.

But there is shelter too.

In Ukraine, school teachers are taking up arms to defend their country. President Zelinskyy has refused a golden parachute and remained to lead. Grandmothers are cursing Russian invaders — with sunflower seeds for their pockets. Nurses are steadily pumping air into the lungs of NICU babies in a subway station. In Russia, even after decades of violent repression, people of conscience are protesting their government’s invasion.

And here. There are courageous migrants enduring unimaginable hardship upon policy violence upon systemic neglect all for their children’s future and their own. And there are those who leave water at the border and walk the Arizona desert seeking lives to save.

And librarians are getting controversial books into the hands of children who need stories like bread. And teachers and ministers and parents, doctors and communities are rallying to protect trans kids and give them the care they deserve.

And that is all of a piece too: how bravely we show up for one another. How human it is to gather together into the circle of each others’ arms.

There is shelter.

There is shadow and shelter, and we are caught up in all of it at once.

We are, some of us, shivering in the shade, longing for light and warmth.
We are, some of us, casting shadows we don’t even see and without ever meaning to.
We are, some of us, huddled, grateful, in the embrace of another.
We are, some of us, sheltering others in the great circle of our expanding love.
We are, many of us, caught up in it all at once.

But we can choose.

This is the secret that the logic of Empire withholds from us, the truth that borders and boxes and book bans seek to obscure.

We can choose.

Our arms, together, are wider than we think and stronger than we know. We can be shelter and be sheltered. We can bring each other light and warmth. We can choose.




The Rev. Molly Housh Gordon is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church-Columbia, MO. She is passionate about healing the soul wounds of supremacy systems.

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Molly Housh Gordon

Molly Housh Gordon

The Rev. Molly Housh Gordon is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church-Columbia, MO. She is passionate about healing the soul wounds of supremacy systems.

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