I experienced sanctuary this past week, and what I found there was shelter: shelter from the torrential rains we were having, shelter from the hot desert sun in between storms, but primarily I found shelter in safety to be and to say whatever I was feeling and thinking. Friends created for us a safe space, where we could listen or speak, sleep or eat when the time was right for us, and be silent or enter a fascinating conversation in which we tried to resolve our wrestling, with curiosity and respect.
Sanctuary that sheltered occurred again later in the week when over a long nourishing supper, one guest poured out a heart of despair over the state of the universe, global and personal, and the listeners heard, received and offered themselves in response. No fixes, no remedies, just shelter from the stormy assaults of irresponsible, manipulative and abusive rhetoric that is characteristic of so much common parlance these days.
In the 1960’s a feature of the upheaval we lived through was given voice in rock music. Mick Jagger sang, “Gimme Shelter,” and Bob Dylan begged for “shelter from the storm.” In the church tradition in which i was raised, we used to sing “Jesus is a rock in a weary land, a shelter in the time of storm.” However, none of the singers–rock or congregation–ever imagined that the shelter of sanctuary was a permanent abiding place. The sanctuary that sheltered was a a way station, an oasis, a place of protective replenishment, on the way to plunge back into the madding crowd.
There is a way that the Lenten season is a shelter because it focuses me and contains me on an inward journey to be walked with Jesus. My attention each morning, beginning today when I wear the cross, asks me to pay attention and to act from a place of deep trust in my belonging to God; how does that identity both ground and shelter me and propel me to action in the world? Both the inward and the outward movements, claiming my spiritual identity and from that center, shining the Light on the darkness around us gives me sanctuary, comfort and energy.
So I will shelter in sanctuary in very small and undramatic ways. I will read from sacred texts, walk the labyrinth and sing songs that remind me that I am both “frail and glorious,” as Sister Macrina tells me. I will clear a space in my dwelling which has become cluttered, making room for Spirit. And I will pray with Bread for the World for the hungry ones, gather clothes for those who need them, and wear a pin designed by my friend Kris Haig that tells those I meet, “You are safe with me!” It does not seem like much, but in the practiced ritual of Lent, I am given shelter–respite, identity, protection–that empowers me for whatever lies beyond.
My prayer is that in that claiming of myself and my call in ministry during Lent, I will become a better and better sanctuary for those who need a listening ear, a place to rest, an infusion of beauty, a reassurance that the Light is and will be still shining.
In our new hymnal there is a song introduced to me a few years ago by a group of young people, committed to working for peace and justice in our world. It is my prayer today: Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you. (John Thompson and Randy Scruggs)
The photo is of a cottage at Findhorn Foundation in Moray, Scotland.