Everyone knows what it means to be afraid, or at risk, or at wits end, or discombobulated, or even fragmented. Times when your spirit is depleted, and you wonder where hope went. I do know this: more than ever, we need places of refuge—a safe place to land. Yes, safe places—sanctuaries—for sanity and restoration.
Our sanctuary is not just for solace, but also indispensable as deterrent. Why? Because with sanctuary, we are building immunity. To not be as easily susceptible to fear. To not feel at the mercy of every threat. To know that depletion is not hopeless.
To be replenished is to be reminded of what is true, of what tethers us. This is not just someone saying, “you’ll be okay.” But to know, at our core, that we are safe and we are home. And now we have something to draw on. And that means we have something to give.
Mother Teresa was asked where she found her strength, her focus, her fuel. The fuel, she explained, is prayer. “To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.”
Yes. And I say it is the oil of replenishment (sanctuary) that Mother Teresa is talking about.
Replenished, we can honor our capacity (inner core) fueled by grace and sufficiency, and not scarcity.
Replenished we can honor our capacity for mindfulness. To embrace now, the gift of awe, and the sacrament of the present moment.
In one of her journals (in the early 1900s), Raissa Maritain wrote, “Yesterday I had a good morning. Once again when I recollect myself, I again find the same simple demands of God: gentleness, humility, charity, interior simplicity; nothing else is asked of me. And suddenly I saw clearly why these virtues are demanded, because through them the soul becomes inhabitable for God and for one’s neighbor in an intimate and permanent way. They make a pleasant cell of it. Hardness and pride repel, complexity disquiets. But humility and gentleness welcome, and simplicity reassures.”
Sanctuary and refuge here in the PNW this week means staying out of the heat. Breaking records here. And that’s a big deal. Replenishment is about staying hydrated. Even the geese were spending most of their day on the water. And I don’t blame them.
A fire rages in a two-story house. A young boy’s head is visible leaning out a second-floor window. His voice is piercing and plaintive, “Daddy, help me! Daddy, where are you?”
Smoke (from first floor flames) billows from shattered ground floor windows, now obscuring visibility. From the window, the boy cannot see the ground below, and he is literally shaking with fright. The boy hears a familiar voice, as if coming from inside the great cloud of smoke. His father, shouts, implores, “Son, I am right here. I can hear you. I am right here on the ground beneath your window. I need to you to listen to me. Listen to my voice. I need you to jump. Now. Jump and I will catch you.”
“But Daddy, I can’t jump because I can’t see you.”
“That’s okay son. I will catch you because I can still see you.”
It may not be a fire. But each of us knows what it is like to be afraid. To “look outside a window” in our life, and know that something is out of kilter. Or, (maybe typically) because we can’t see, we make stuff up (and it’s never very good is it?).
It’s as if we allow the uncertainty—and the fear—to be the judge and jury for reality. I get it. We don’t believe we have any control. So, like the little boy, we feel powerless. And invisible. To those around us. Even to God. And we don’t see a way out. We don’t know if there is a safe place to land.
In Luke’s Gospel, there is a story about a “bent woman.” We don’t know her name. Just the label that has been given to her. A label she has carried for 18 years. A woman imprisoned by her name.
Have you ever felt “bent,” bound or restricted in some way?
Have you ever felt weighted by a label (or shame, or doubt, or even despair?)
Have you ever felt invisible? To those around you? Or to God?
This is an amazing story. Luke writes simply, “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.'”
In other words… I can see you. You can jump. I will catch you.
This story could have gone another way. Jesus could have finished his lesson, and moved on to the next town, and no one—literally, no one—would have known, or even given any thought to this woman. She was invisible.
But Jesus didn’t move on. He stopped.
Not because this woman asked him to. Not because she offered a reward. Not because she believed. Not because he felt coerced or pressured or needed brownie points. He stopped. Because he saw her.
Which meant that he saw more than a superficial, cruel, limiting label. He saw not just a “bent woman,” but a “daughter of Abraham, and an heir to the blessings of God.”
Which meant that he saw a woman now free to pass those blessings on to anyone she touches. It is no surprise that he said this on a Sabbath. He invited this woman, even bent, to rest. He said, in effect, “Now that I see you, you are safe—with a safe place to land.”
Yes, each one of us knows what it means to be afraid, or at risk, or at wits end, or discombobulated, or fragmented. Your spirit dehydrated. We are thirsty for sanctuary, a place of grounding hydration, and a safe place to land.
However, if I’m honest, my druthers would be that this (sanctuary) kicks in after life is tidy, and all straightened out. You know, first things first. That would be nice.
And I forget…
We started our week with the story about the villagers of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, who became known as the “City of Refuge.” And their song. Whenever Nazi patrols searched the village, the Jews were sent, surreptitiously, out into the woodland countryside. One of the villagers recalled, “As soon as the soldiers left, we would go into the forest and sing a song. When they heard that song, the Jews knew it was safe to come home.”
And here is the power… the refuge, and the gift of a safe place is real (and restorative) even (and especially) in the fragmented or at risk world around us.
In the Post Office this week, I heard this conversation. “I’m trying to stay sane and healthy. Or is it healthy and sane. I’m not sure of the order.”
Of course, the first Noble Truth of Buddhism is that life is filled with suffering. So much for tidy. Or for my wish to eliminate sorrow. The (very old) Sanskrit word for suffering is Dukkha. (It can mean stress, anxiety or dissatisfaction.) The contrast is Sukha, which can translate happiness (which throws me because I’m not real certain what happiness looks like, except that it seems to describe someone other than me).
What is helpful to know is that these words date to a time when humans traveled by horse or ox drawn carts, and the words were literally used to mean, “having a bad or good axle.”
Okay, I love this. (Plus, I’m good at mixing metaphors.)
Here’s the deal: there will be ruts—life can be precarious and unsafe—but it is the axle (and not the ruts) that determines the ride.
So, back to the villagers… the song gives us the power to change our paradigm. Even though there is suffering (or pain or danger), the axle determines the ride.
And the good axle? God is present in the commonplace, in the weak, the flawed, the untidy. And even there, our values—gentleness, humility, charity, interior simplicity—tether us. And we are reminded of them when we hear the song that invites us home.
The good news? Our story doesn’t stop when we hear the song. We leave different than when we came in. And now, we sing (spill) the song to others.
And the song always invites people home to safety (safe place to land).
Whatever it is, the song brings people out of hiding, out of unease and out of fear. The song invites courage and renewal and resilience.
It is the music of Grace.
Friday — Have you read Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, by Douglas Wood? The children’s book tells an imaginary story of how the world came to be so fragmented when it is meant to be whole, and how we might put it back together again.
In a far-away land that “is somehow not so far away,” one night a truth falls from the stars. And as it falls, it breaks into two pieces—one piece blazes off through the sky and the other falls straight to the ground.
One day a “truth” falls from the sky and breaks. One day a man stumbles upon the gravity-drawn truth, and finds carved on it the words, “You are loved.”
It makes him feel good, so he keeps it and shares it with the people in his tribe. The thing sparkles and makes the people who have it feel warm and happy. It becomes their most prized possession, and they call it “The Truth.” Those who have the truth grow afraid of those who don’t have it, who are different than they are. And those who don’t have it covet it. Soon people are fighting wars over the small truth, trying to capture it for themselves.
A little girl who is troubled by the growing violence, greed, and destruction in her once peaceful world goes on a journey-through the Mountains of Imagining, the River of Wondering Why, and the Forest of Finding Out—to speak with Old Turtle, the wise counselor. Old Turtle tells her that the Truth is broken and missing a piece, a piece that shot off in the night sky so long ago. Together they search for it, and when they find it the little girl puts the jagged piece in her pocket and returns to her people. She tries to explain, but no one will listen or understand. Finally, a raven flies the broken truth to the top of a tower where the other piece had been ensconced for safety, and the rejoined pieces shine their full message: “You are loved / and so are they.” And the people begin to comprehend. And the earth begins to heal.
However, the story doesn’t end here. There’s no neat bow. But there is an invitation to “find freedom, aliveness, and power,” in Eve Ensler’s words, “not from what contains, locates, or protects us, but from what dissolves, reveals, and expands us.”
And here’s the deal: Now, we can live out the story—our story—with new self-compassionate eyes. And the profound fundamental reality, that all are beloved children of God, and that no one of us is on this journey alone.
I am so grateful for the extraordinary power in compassion (and the courage to practice compassion in a world that places a premium on power and control), and community (“Are we all brothers and sisters, or not?”).
And so grateful that compassion is the soil for sanctuary—safe places to land—where our hearts can heal.
Prayer for our week…
When the world feels hopeless and heartless,
take a moment to look around.
There are beautiful humans everywhere,
often hiding in plain sight in cabs,
on buses, in cafes, on trains, in libraries,
on park benches, in laundromats, on subways.
They may not be rich or well-educated.
They may be broken and hurting themselves.
They may not have much to offer
in terms of worldly goods.
But they are the comforters, encouragers, sharers,
teachers, servers, healers, mentors, connecters,
helpers, and counselors who keep
the random hurting humans,
the weary and the lost,
the invisible sufferers who walk among us every day,
going just long enough
to find their hope and strength again.
It doesn’t take a degree or wealth
or a grand gesture to make a
difference in this world.
It just takes a human who cares.
Photo… “Hi Terry. Begonia… the amazement of small things.” Suchin Rai…