the importance of sanctuary

When you lie back in your tub of water...

When you walk in the woods...

When you light a candle and sit in the prayer chapel and breathe...

When you allow yourself to be still, you are aware of your self, and when you are aware of your self, you are in the presence of God.

God is within you.

The Holy Spirit is flowing like a stream of light in your blood.

She is speaking in a whisper that flutters beneath your heart.

She is calling out to you in the wind and the stars, and she needs for you to make space.

She needs for you to make space to hear yourself, and her voice.

A few days ago, I went walking in the grey and rain and ended up at Keble College. It was open to visitors for the afternoon, so I made my way to the chapel because I wanted to see the painting, the Light of the World. I’ve always found this depiction of Christ to be not only gentle and beautiful, but also to hold a lot of elemental energy, and I wanted to see it with my own eyes.

What I didn’t expect was that the chapel itself would be so ornate and beautiful.

Visiting churches and sacred sites is my activity of choice in England. You may think I would grow tired of cathedrals and enchanted woods, but I do not.

One of the things that intrigues me is how different each of these spaces is. No two cathedrals, no two church sanctuaries, no two holy places feel the same. Each has its own energy, and this can only be because of the gatherings that happen there, the coming together of souls, the direction and quality of the prayer.

Whatever the space we enter, we always bring ourselves.

Whether it is a small altar on a kitchen shelf, the meditation cushion, the church kneeler, a mossy rock beneath a tree – when we come into sanctuary, we remember what we are made of. We feed ourselves and connect with the energy from which we flow.

Sometimes this means we feel connected and sometimes it does not.

Because the thing about entering sanctuary is to do so without expectation.

Sanctuary is space. It is the opportunity to step aside for a moment from the demands and challenges of living. It is safety and comfort. It is the moment of unplugging from stressors and fears and burdens and allowing one’s self to simply be. In sanctuary, we are pure essence.

And this is why it is so important. Not a luxury, but basic foundational nourishment.

And this is why it is in sanctuary that we are in the presence of God.

Spirit.

Love.

In sanctuary, we stop reaching. We allow ourselves to be what we are and be held by what is.

To be in sanctuary is to honor and be honored.

Yesterday, amid shopping and crowd shuffling, I ducked into St. Mary Magdalen Church. I was drawn, of course, by this church’s namesake, and I stayed because of the deep peaceful energy. I sat for a while in front of one of the many altars and I lit a candle for the women in my life.

l sat in communion.

I didn’t expect a conversation, a sign, even a flash of insight. I had no agenda. I sat in the presence, present.

And when I left, I left slightly altered, ever so slightly, transformed.

Because I had been lifted from my life and reminded of the love that flows through me and every living creature, every stone, every drop of rain. Because I had been seen and heard. Because love is eternal and available in each moment to receive its beloved.

This is why sanctuary is so important: a room, a chair, a window view, a corner of a garden, a pew that feels like home.

It is easy to forget in the midst of our to-do lists and dreams and schedules and plans that in truth, the only real thing is love.

Sanctuary reminds us.