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I’ve taught “Finding Sanctuary” from David’s amazing Psalm 27: Praying our Sanctuary. English “sanctuary” comes from Latin sanctus, meaning holy: a sacred space (our heart) set aside for God, to encounter him in safety and sanctity. Sanctuary is essentially escaping into God’s presence (his heart), to be with him.
David’s instruction is simple (v.4): Wrestle down your life and lifestyle to do one thing above all others, “One thing have I desired: that I may dwell in the Lord’s sanctuary all the days of my life, to gaze upon his beauty, to seek him in his sanctuary.” To build your heart/life into a sanctuary for God, where HE is our sanctuary, is THE most important thing in life! Carve out a time and place for personal sanctuary in your daily life. Jesus said of Mary, “Only one thing is needed; she has chosen it – it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:42).
This theme is inspired by Abbot Christopher Jamison’s book “Finding Sanctuary”, on how St Benedict’s Rule of Community (6th century) helps us to build sanctuary in our hearts, from which all of life flows (Prov 4:23).
How do we do this? We build/find sanctuary via 7 steps. Before we begin step one we have to slow down to make a decision to build sanctuary in our busy lives. Then we find and enter the Door of Virtue – the door to our hearts – which doesn’t mean becoming morally pure. Rather, Jamison says, “if we see virtue as simply the right way to live, no matter what the cost, then virtue is sacred. Virtue is recognising the sacred in daily life”, seeing God in all things (Matt 5:8). Enter the door of virtue to build sanctuary by doing these steps…
Step One, The Floor of Silence:
In slowing down and being less busy, we purposefully lay the floor of silence in our lives by making a specific time and place for solitude (to be alone) and silence before/with God. We learn to be silent, to wait on God.
Step Two, The Carpet of Contemplation:
On the floor of silence we lay the carpet of contemplation – prayer and Bible meditation – daily time with God as Jesus taught (Matt 6:6), to listen and respond to God. This is called Lectio Divina: the four movements of… lectio (read scripture), meditatio (meditate on it), oratio (pray it), contemplatio (then wait on God).
Step Three, The Walls of Obedience:
Obedience is from the Latin oboedire, “to listen” as in “leaning forward to hear”. It’s hearing God in Lectio – and in people, in every situation, through the day – discerning and actually doing what God requires of us.
Step Four, The Roof of Humility:
Humility is not passivity, weakness, or humiliation. It’s from Latin humus, soil. Being humble is being down-to-earth, honest, real, no pretence. We ascend Benedict’s “twelve steps of the ladder of humility” to build the roof by descending to the soil, to our knees, learning Jesus’ humility of heart and mind in Matt 11:29.
Step Five, The Windows of Community:
Belonging to and building (healthy) community in our lives helps us find sanctuary. It reinforces and supports our pursuit of God’s intimate presence – we cannot do it solo. Community holds us accountable. We find sanctuary in koinonia (Greek: community & communion), sharing Christ’s common life in loving one another.
Step Six, The Furniture of Spirituality:
Spirituality is our true substance/character (of Christ) before God and others, that emerges via these steps.
Step Seven, The Fittings of Hope:
The result is hope, a resilient expectation of good – of a good life and death – producing abiding peace.
The Cement that holds it all together is the daily practice of sanctuary in a regular time and place, as well as throughout the day by turning to God – personally – in a supportive and accountable community of faith.