While cultivating sanctuary space and time is incredibly important in a world where such intentional practice is often in short supply, sometimes the sanctuary itself can become a barrier.
It is so easy to take something good, an icon that invites us into a wider reality of God’s presence and kingdom, and make it into an idol, something that chains and imprisons us away from love, into self-protective habits.
When a sanctuary is functioning as an icon, our vision is open and possibilities are abundant. Peace pervades the space or the time, and the focus is on gratitude for God’s presence. Self-care boundaries are in place, but permeable and flexible, allowing for the breath of life to rhythmically flow in and out.
When a sanctuary becomes an idol, we move into guard-mode. Lock doors and shrouded windows. The world outside becomes a scary place to venture and it all seems easier to stay safe at home. This desire to stay home can be literal or metaphorical, and in my own life, I’ve experienced both temptations.
Years ago, I was terrified to fly. My first flight was trans-atlantic to Germany and I flew many times back and forth over two decades without issue. Then I flew through a powerful thunderstorm, spending what felt like an eternity holding on as the plane climbed and then dropped sharply over and over.
Looking back, I had also just been in a serious carwreck and as trauma often does, I can see now that the two experiences merged in my psyche. From that point on, I panicked everytime I needed to fly and finally began taking the train (which gave me a love of train travel). My pastor and mentor at the time, Lynne Baab, challenged me when I said I would never fly again. She said, “You cannot promise that. You need to be prepared to go where God calls you, and that might require flying.”
She was right. While I finally found freedom from the fear, I didn’t let it stop me from traveling by air when necessary.
And then, God called me to lead trips to Ireland each year. What I would have missed if I had remained safely on the ground!
Sanctuaries are great to come home to after an adventure or a scary experience, but not to stay in without leaving.
Crafting sanctuary in our homes and lives will only be life-giving if we are weaving beauty, peace, joy, love, and life, into them, nurturing the very gifts that the world needs; making visible in our lives and homes God’s presence and welcoming others to experience it.
When fear or anger is a thread in the making of sanctuary, the temptation to build defenses and hide within becomes strong.
If remembering to leave your sanctuary is a challenge (it can be for me, too), I offer this beautifully rendered short-film by Pixar. It captures the call to move out of our sanctuary into the world, better than words, and more joyfully.
Tea-drinker, cafe-windowseat-sitter, theologian-stargazer, contemplative-professor, photo-taking-poet, earth-loving artist, and follower of Jesus Christ. Write me at susan (at) contemplativecottage (dot) com.