As we let go of summer, we have hopes of cooler days. Some of us look forward to gatherings with family and friends for favorite fall meals. Others long for quieter times with a book or one special one. As we picture indoor times, no doubt the word home is central to those images. It isn’t surprising really. After all, biologist E.O. Wilson argues that our longevity and success as a species is rooted in our evolved ability to nest. Call it nest or call it home. It is where we share resources and protect each other.
I am thinking about home this fall because Betsy and I have decided to sell our home and buy a townhome elsewhere in the Denver Metro area. It is time to let go of yard work and simplify.
I am also thinking about home because our worship theme this month is sanctuary and sometimes those words are conflated. While I have appreciated the frequency that my home has felt like my sanctuary, the two words are not really about the same thing.
Home, after all, is that place described by Robert Frost where, “when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” It is a place that we create for ourselves or with others where we feel comfortable and safe. It is a place where we feel nourished, as well as a sense of belonging.
Sanctuary can be much of that, too, especially around a sense of safety. Whether thinking about undocumented Americans or wildlife, the notion of sanctuary speaks to a place where threats from the outside are neutralized.
Yet, considered more broadly, we can see that sanctuary holds competing notions in tension. For example, sanctuary is both refuge and retreat. It is a place that says, “come in and rest,” and it is also a place that says “be filled and go.” Sanctuary is dynamic, calling us not just into safe space where we rest on the surface of things, but brave space where we test assumptions and create new possibilities.
At its best, church holds this tension. Our church strives to offer this in the way posed by the Soul Matters Team (i.e., the group that represents over 200 UU congregations and sources our themes): We say, “Welcome to this holy space. This shelter for our hearts and hopes, a sanctuary for our deepest longings. Here may we find rest and repair, connection and comfort. Here may we find our center, our breath, our voice, and the strength to go out into the world and be shelter for others.”
In an effort to live into this, we are settling on a single covenant to repeat during our worship services for the rest of the year. Written by James Vila Blake, a version of it is said each week in many Unitarian Universalist congregations. It reads:
Love is the spirit of this church,
and service its law.
This is our great covenant:
To dwell together in peace,
To seek the truth in love,
And to help one another.
Within these words, the complexity and challenge of sanctuary can be found. We are rooted in love and we are called to serve. We commit to live together in peace, but not by giving up our desire to search for greater truth. And we accept we are not now, nor have we ever been, for ourselves alone. Thus, as people, we will help one another within and beyond our church. We are, indeed, inviting each other to come in and rest, while we remind ourselves there is much to be done.
I am so grateful to serve a congregation strong and courageous enough to embrace the challenge.