Solace for Sojourners: A Podcast Review of Refugia

February 20, 2020

Title: Refugia: A Podcast About Renewal
Broadcaster: Calvin University
Narrator: Debra Rienstra
Start Date: August 26, 2019
End Date: December 6, 2019

Refugia: A Podcast About Renewal is the new podcast created by Calvin University English professor Dr. Debra Rienstra. The basis for this podcast was a blog post written by Rienstra in May of 2019 which was titled simply “Refugia.” Dr. Rienstra continued to be inspired by her research into Refugia and eventually started this podcast to continue having deep conversations around the theme. On each episode of Refugia, Rienstra interviews various experts of science, religion, music, worship, activism, and more about what refugia means for them and how we as humans—and even more specifically, as Christians—can actively be a part of creating spaces of refugia.

So, what is refugia? Well, figuring that out is the fun part of the podcast. Honestly, you’d be better of checking out Dr. Rienstra’s blog and the podcast itself if you’re looking to construct your definition of the word.

Broadly speaking, Rienstra defines refugia in her blog as “…tiny coverts where life hides from destruction, secret shelters out of which new life emerges.” She tells the story of when the volcano at Mt. St. Helen erupted and how it effectively wiped out the whole eco-system. People thought it would take an incredible amount of time for the area to recover biologically. However, due to small pockets of refugia that sheltered growth and life from the aftermath of the volcano, the ecosystem on the mountain has made a stunning rebound, and after a few short decades the slopes of Mount St. Helens are covered in life.

This hopeful view of refugia as the pockets of existence that make life and flourishing possible after catastrophe forms the analogical springboard from which the Refugia podcast leaps.

Over the course of 13 episodes, Dr. Rienstra susses out the theme through her casual interviews with a variety of guests who bring their own specialties to this theme of refugia, illuminating for the listener new perspectives on life, religion, and more.

Rienstra’s conversations with her guests serve as brief glimpses into the lives of those who are working hard to create places of refugia. They are moments when we get to sit with incredible minds and diligent souls who are directly concerned in creating places of rest. Listening to these people talk to each other, you get the sense that as the listener you are being welcomed into a new space—a space where you get to rest for just a bit, find some refuge, and exit the experience recharged for the work ahead.

A natural topic the podcast covers is climate change and the effect that it is having on species’ extinction and our changing planet. In Episode 2, Rienstra’s guest is Dr. Jamie Skillen. Their conversation revolves around climate change, and specifically how Christians have carried the burden and the culpability for the environment. Skillen brings up an essay by Lynn White Jr. and says,

…what’s I think most interesting about his essay is that not only does he blame Christianity, he says Christianity bears, quote, “a huge burden of guilt,” unquote. But he also says since the problem is religious, the solution needs to be religious. And he tries to rehabilitate Christianity by turning to people like Saint Francis and developing a more ecologically friendly Christianity.

The subject matter of Refugia is at times heavy due to the enormity of the issues that we as humans have caused throughout creation. However, Rienstra guides us as the listener through the difficult and out toward some hope of rebirth. Her final question to her guests is always “What are your places of refugia right now?” This opens up both her interviewees and the listener to glean some hope from the situation. The answers from the guests of the show are beautiful and poignant. Physical locations are shared: The Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness, Yosemite National Park, the Sierra Nevada mountains, and Oregon. Kitchen tables can be refugium, along with scripture, worship, and listening to jazz. Ways that people experience refugia are as numerous as there are people. Jo-Ann Van Reeuwyk, the guest on episode 4 of the podcast, says,

“For me, the little things, the little spaces, the tiny, tiny little spaces talk to me about the cosmos. And so for me the refugia is in, you know, walking along and all of a sudden you hear a leaf moving. And it’s not because the leaf is moving by itself, but there’s some little creature that’s down there moving and being protected by this leaf.

And that to me signals, you know, God glimmer, but then further than that, it signals the wider expanse of this cosmos. And I love the interplay of that kind of thinking. And so for me I can find it almost anywhere, the refugia…”

That’s what this podcast does. It sees the world as it is. Broken, yes. Chaotic, yes. But, also hopeful and beautiful, a world filled with the possibility for life. It begs those who work within Christianity to be the kind of people who invest in making spaces of refugia that are particular, rooted in God, and thus can welcome the wanderers of the world with open arms. A refugium—as Rienstra and her guests claim—is not a place to hunker down and isolate oneself. It is not meant to be a place where you surround yourself with those things in life that you like, a little echo chamber in which you can sit back and feel great about yourself. Instead, a refugium is a place that creates space for sojourners whose work in the world is important, whose witness to the new Jerusalem of God’s Kingdom is needed, who have survived the buffeting of live, but who need a place to retreat. To rest. To find a home for a time, and then to go out and reengage with the world.

This podcast is full to the brim with nuggets of wisdom and sage advice. It is a great listening experience to stir up new and old thoughts within you. If you are worn out by the constant interaction and outrage mentality of media and the news cycle, or if the hyperbolic statements of analysts have left you feeling tired, then I invite you to drop in on one of the Refugia podcast conversations. You will be refreshed, and in sharing time with these people I believe you will come away with new energy for the work ahead.

About the Author
  • Jackson Nickolay is originally from the North Woods of Minnesota along the shore of Lake Superior, but has lived in Holland, Michigan for the last 6 years. He completed a Master of Divinity from Western Theological Seminary with a focus on worship design. He has a passion for living into the dual vocation of an artist and a minister and finds application for these callings in worship music, embodied scripture, theatre, writing, and liturgical arts. He is married to Hannah Barker Nickolay who also graduated with a Masters in Divinity from Western Theological Seminary. Together with some close friends they run a small liturgical arts company called Wayfolk Arts, which focuses on crafting liturgies, scripture enactments, prayers, songs, and blessings for small and large ecclesial communities. Jackson is also the co-host and co-founding member of the Podcast No Script, a weekly podcast which centers on unscripted conversations about theatre's best scripts.

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