Tuesday, January 1, 2013

One Word for 2013: Sanctuary

art by Suzanne Vinson 
Sometimes God speaks through the miraculous--a burning bush, an unexplained healing, an unbelievable and well-timed opportunity.  I suppose to some, God's voice is loud and ominous like thunder.  But more often, I've heard God like a quiet thought in my head.  God kind of sounds like me...a little sarcastic, and yet clear with a wisdom that's obviously not from me.  It's always a moment followed by unspeakable peace and the surprise of "Why haven't I thought that before?"

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is of Elijah the prophet and how he experiences the presence of God during a time of great danger and stress in his life. Elijah's prophetic word of truth hit a little too close to home for Queen Jezebel, who threatens his life, and so, in fear, Elijah flees into the wilderness, and there he wishes to die.  Yet God intervenes and sends angels to nourish him twice, and Elijah, strengthened for a time, makes his way to the mountain of God.  God asks him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?", and the prophet shares the troubles he faces.  God tells Elijah that he will pass before him.  There is a great wind...but God is not in the wind.  And then a powerful earthquake...but God is not in the earthquake.  And then a fire...but God is not in the fire.  And then there was silence...and the still small voice of God.  "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

We live in a world that is so LOUD...from the constant noise of the television, music, people arguing, and the relentless advertisements, assaulting all our senses.  We are so very busy, rushing to attend to all who are shouting for our attention.  And yet the way of God is in stark contrast.  In the sanctuary of the cave where Elijah stood, he faced the weight of his fear and the immense power of God's creation, but greater still was the strength of God's silence and in the small voice that followed.  God's presence is our protection in the middle of our turbulent world and lives; his quiet call drowns out the noise and reminds us to focus on what we should be doing.  What are we doing here...and why?

Throughout the busyness of the past two years, a time of immense transition, I've heard that still small voice, whispering to me of "sanctuary" and rest.  I felt that my calling as chaplain at Hollins University was to be a minister of peace, even before I understood the setting.  Now that I have been there for a time, I understand why sanctuary has been placed on my heart.

When the word first came to me, I thought of a physical space...a sanctuary as the part of a church where we worship.  For me, having grown up in a church where I felt affirmed and welcomed, it has a positive connotation.  But for many, I know "church" has its baggage, and the word "sanctuary" may have little meaning in our secular culture.  Today, the term is more often used for an area designed for the protection of wildlife, such as a bird sanctuary.  The word should bring to mind a place of safety and rest, of protection and peace and holiness.

I named my weekly worship service "Sanctuary" in the hopes that students would find this place of rest and retreat away from the busyness and stress, a place and time where they could find renewal for their spirit and connection for their souls in community, service, and seeking and worshiping God.  For those that have come, I believe that it has offered that refuge.  But I've been often discouraged by how few have experienced it when the needs on campus are so great.

The voice whispering "Sanctuary" has not stopped or decreased its insistence.  In fact, it has grown louder as I have dismissed it with my own agenda of busyness and programs.  And yet, at the end of this year, worn and tired, uncertain, and low in budget, I can see no better or more worth emphasis for 2013.  As God has ordained, my word for 2013 will be "Sanctuary".
logo by Melanie at Only a Breath

Through the year, I plan to first of all seek God as my sanctuary, to rest in God's care and to seek renewal for my own soul.  I aim to take better care of myself (practicing what I preach) so that I can be more available for others.  As God works to heal my own heart and spirit, I pray that I can be a sanctuary for others, offering hope, a listening ear, and spiritual guidance.  I aim to find and offer sanctuary in my own home first, balancing my demands by being present for those who love and need me most.  I want to offer shelter for my children, so that they can come to me with anything and know they will find love.  I want to be present and supportive for my husband, showing him my unending love that has only grown and deepened over the years.  Although we often put our relationship last, I want to find sanctuary in one another, knowing that it gives us both strength for the challenges we face in raising two precocious and strong-willed children.  I want our home to be a sanctuary for us all, a place of rest and nurture, built on the foundation of our faith in God.

Thus strengthened by finding sanctuary in God and in my home, I pray that God may make me a sanctuary so that I can be present for those who are seeking, and that I might shelter them and point them to God's love, hope, and redemption.

Lord, prepare me to be a Sanctuary,
pure and holy,
tried and true.
And with thanksgiving,
I'll be a living
for you.


  1. Beautiful, Jenny. I look forward to sharing some "sanctuary moments" with you this year.

  2. I hope God's voice leads you deeper into your desire for and to create sanctuary

  3. Beautiful. Last month the meditations in the Finian readings of the Northumbrian Office were all on the concept of "poustina", the place of sanctuary which is not only the monk's cell, but in the heart. God bless you as you find sanctuary!