It’s the dramatic moment in the movie, when the one who is persecuted sprints into the Church and cries out for sanctuary.
“SANCTUARY!” she yells, bursting through the great, wood doors, stumbling down the aisle and falling at the foot of the altar, safe.
God, I miss this picture of the Church. And I find myself frequently brokenhearted that the Church isn’t perceived as safe anymore, but instead as a Sin Detection Agency where WE WILL FIND YOU OUT, or a Purification Station where WE WILL CLEANSE YOU. It’s sanctuary turned inside out, and it’s terribly wrong. Horribly misplaced. Deeply out of character with a Jesus who touched the untouchables, welcomed the outcasts, said the blind man hadn’t sinned, and sent the angry mob away from the woman who’d been convicted by them.
The political and religious wars rage in our minds and in our hearts and on our Facebook pages, friend against friend and brother against brother in true civil war fashion, and I am often weary when I watch, not because I won’t stand up for what I believe, but because I need a break from being bruised and battered in the battle, and I find these days I’d rather work to create the sanctuary, anyway, than work at being right.
I turned 40 over the weekend. Forty years old! Or, like my kids like to say, WHOA.
I spent all of my 20’s and the early part of my 30’s seeking sanctuary. Desperate for it. Desperate for a place to fall down in safety. Desperate to lay my grimy head at the foot of the altar. Desperate to let my scratched feet and scraped legs stick out from underneath my torn clothes. To stop trying to cover the scars. To meet the gentle priest who brings bread and wine, not with the intention to sway me toward sanctification or salvation, but just for sustenance. And for the sake of kindness. “You’re safe,” he’d say. “Eat. Drink. Rest.”
And I found myself terribly disappointed and disillusioned that the Church was unreliable about providing it. That I wasn’t sure I was safe to show my wounds there. That I wasn’t free to say the things I thought out loud without inviting the mob to attack.
Of course, there are people in the Church who provide sanctuary, time and time again. So many. So beautifully. With such abiding and selfless love. But there are also people in the Church who won’t, or who can’t, or who think they do but don’t, because the Church is peppered with humans just everywhere making it all terribly perfect and also pathetic like the rest of the human race, except in the name of GOD, which is what makes it hard to take.
Now, I know I’m holding the Church to unreasonable expectations, as though the Church is supposed to BE God rather than learn God, which, it turns out, is me making the Church an idol and then being disappointed when my god made of sticks and mud doesn’t act like the God made of Love, but I just wanted so badly to know where to find it. Sanctuary.
So I looked for it in my marriage. And I looked for it in my children. And I looked for it in my family and in my friends. And in my church. And on the wind. And in the waves. And in myself.
And I found it there, too. Often. Sanctuary is there. In every one of those people and places, absolutely.
But only sometimes. And not always when I’d like. Because people and wind and waves can be fickle. Steady and unstable. Which is why they’re so much fun and so gorgeous and so destructive and so costly.
So where is the sanctuary, then? You know… reliably.
Where’s the sanctuary, if not in the Church? Or in our people? Or in ourselves?
Where is the sanctuary we so desperately seek?
Well, I’m 40 now, you know. Forty years old! Which means I’ve run for sanctuary hundreds of times, maybe thousands, barefoot through the city, and I’ve been greeted by the priest, and I’ve found the Church empty, and I’ve been lifted up and let down by all my people, including myself.
And this is what I’ve learned.
Sanctuary is wherever Love is found.
And Love rains down all the time, but it only hits us drop by drop.
In the Church, drop by drop. Out of the Church, drop by drop. In my marriage, drop by drop. And in myself, drop by drop.
A tiny piece of Love at a time, and in that Love, sanctuary.
Yes, sanctuary is wherever we find Love, who some call God or Jesus, and Anne Lamott calls Howard, and I sometimes call the Aunties because they’re wise and smart and savvy and strong and they laugh uproariously and shriek when they skinny dip and give me sips of bourbon by the fire which is, to me, a piece of Love made wrinkly flesh.
It’s true that only in Perfect Love is there Perfect Rest, but here’s the secret … anyone can be the conduit through which Perfect Love flows for a little while. It’s up to us to be on the lookout for them. On the lookout for the drops between the droughts. Because in Love is the only place we’ll find real sanctuary.
“Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.”
George Fox, 1656
Water Drops image credit Supertrooper via freedigitalimages.net