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.

ID-100199684In 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

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26 responses to “Sanctuary”

  1. Love this. I would also like to mention that we need to be on the lookout for love and sanctuary when we need it, and we can also be on the lookout for those who need it and BE the love and sanctuary for them!! <3

  2. There is a new Sanctuary movement among some churches in the US–protecting undocumented people in danger of being deported. One man is right now living in a Lutheran church in downtown Portland because it proclaimed itself a sanctuary.

    How I love this change! For Christians–at least some Christians–to be once again at the front of those calling for love in their lives. We are about love and mercy first. How wonderful that headlines now include at least a handful of instances in which the church is working to protect and to help the poor, the stranger, the foreigner.

    You know, this is the Biblical way. Throughout Mosaic law we see the admonition to treat the foreigner well, for you were once foreigners in a foreign land. In the US, there are too many of us who have conveniently forgotten that we were once foreigners, lost and confused and poor. Few of us could expect to trace our families back more than five or six generations without finding immigrants, either into the US, or from one region to another.

    My own mother came to Oregon as her family’s crops failed for the third year in a row. They arrived with almost nothing, and benefitted greatly from the assistance of strangers. How could I say to another human being “Go away! unless you are wealthy, we don’t want you here”? How could I possibly love someone as I say these words to them? And how could I face my grandparents, who knew what it was like to be friendless and poor?

    We have an obligation to help the immigrant, the foreigner. There is no shame in traveling to another country in search of food and shelter and a better life; that is how the people of Israel entered Egypt in the first place.

    We are indeed all foreigners in a strange land, and we need one another. With love.

  3. Beth, just read this tonight and your words have given me such peace in so many things. Thank you. I will be printing this one for my bedside table.

  4. What a beautiful thought and a beautiful way of expressing it. I am Jewish and I love finding Christian posts that speak to me. This is one of the very best.

  5. “Sanctuary is wherever Love is found.
    And Love rains down all the time, but it only hits us drop by drop.”

    I absolutely love this. And will try to remember to look out for the drops… Especially the times I feel dry and shriveled up from the drought.


    Second, I really appreciate this. Although I have found a church that I can express myself freely and consider it my sanctuary, this is a good reminder that it’s only a building. I think we build up a single sanctuary too much. It’s our church, our house, our husband, etc… so when there is a problem, when it’s destroyed, or whatever our foundation is rocked. Instead we need to see God’s love and peace in all the elements of our life, and when find Him there we find our peace. Just like you said “Sanctuary is wherever Love is found.”

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the honesty and truth in this post. Thank you.

  7. I so needed to read this today, and I agree 100%. During my monotonous, grumbly, every-day-like-the-last morning, a stranger at the gas station actually wished me a good morning (like she meant it!), smiled (for real!), and said “Dios te bendiga, mi amor” (God bless you, sweetie). It totally turned my morning around. She was a refreshing sprinkle of Love and sanctuary for me, and I don’t even know her. Thank YOU for capturing so eloquently what is all around us. By putting it all in words, we can see it and feel it for ourselves, too.

  8. Thank you for using your gift of articulating what is in your heart so well. Beautiful words “Sanctuary is wherever Love is found.” That’s why a child can fall asleep on her daddy’s shoulder in the middle of a noisy crowd or friends get lost in each other’s embrace on the street. We are all just looking for a small moment of sanctuary, of acceptance, of safety.

  9. Yes. Exactly this. I feel just the same way, and am so grateful to you for articulating it so honestly and bravely. Such an encouragement. Much love to you, my friend! 😀 xoxo

  10. The high school where my daughter is a sophomore went on lockdown today following a bomb threat. Students spent an hour locked down, then evacuated out first to one site, then were bussed to another school where parents gathered to meet them. Out there in the chaotic parking lot, in the drizzle and commotion, we parents were each other’s sanctuary. As students were released to us, our arms were their sanctuary. But the best was being home, in the piles of dirty laundry and soccer shoes and dog hair. She was home with me, and that was all that we needed.

  11. Your writing has me in fits of giggles one day and in tears the next. You are such a gifted writer– and your blog is a resting place of sanctuary, for sure- thank you!;)

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