After the marches around the country and world last Saturday, I heard a common theme from those who participated: they had found a safe place to tell their stories and were heard with kindness, even amid packed subways, crowded plazas, and inconvenient travel. Those who marched felt as if their voices mattered in a way that will make a difference. They felt safe, and even in the teeming crowds there as sanctuary.
This past week I retreated with my beloved soul friends who study and pray together the rest of the year. We felt safe enough in the historic and beautiful retreat center to wrestle with Jesus’ instruction to pray for friends and enemies. As we sank into the comfort and safety of that familiar place, as we allowed the wearying and harsh realities of our personal journeys and of the chaotic world to surface, we told stories–of childhood, of early years of mothering, of Grace given and of grief of rejection.
As I contemplate my Word for this year, SANCTUARY, I am recognizing that the sanctuary that I seek and that I provide needs to be a place in which truth can be told and listened to. Year ago my friend Ken Medema wrote these words to a song about the Church: If this is not a place where tears are understood, where can I go to cry? So I seek sanctuary in Holy Presence, in silence, in prayer, and then in words too deep for sighs. But I need it also in friendship–one who will listen without interrupting, one who hears without judging, one can sit in silence while I struggle for words. I hope for someone who can hold my reaction of the day in confidence without needing to analyze, diagnose and prescribe. I long for someone who can welcome my story, even if they come from another perspective completely.
I am called to practice being that safe and compassionate listener, especially this year. Every tragic event is made up of personal stories; every piece of draconian legislation threatens particular persons with livelihoods and loving to maintain. Every wave of change or upheaval affects the arc of someone–in person. I have a small amount of agency by which I can make a political or social difference, and I must exercise that. But I have more power by which I can lend and ear, savor a tale, cherish a memory of someone who needs to tell it and hold it as sacred.
These days I am wearing an ornamental safety pin designed by my friend Kris Haig to signify to someone, “You are safe with me!” I begin with being a safe and sheltered place to listen to stories–simple or convoluted, sweet or horrific, fantastic or dreary. The story of the Holy One who comes in love and compassion to humanity, never to let go, grounds me and gives me ballast when the whirlwind sagas of those needing shelter come my way. We can be safe. sanctuary for each other.