This morning, while I was attending a service at a local Unitarian Church, a person mentioned how they felt safe and welcome while at the Church. This was distinguished from how they have felt recently when out in public, where they said their mood has in general turned from being cautiously optimistic to worried about the future. In describing their feelings, they said that they felt a renewed appreciation for the meaning of the word ‘sanctuary.’
In reflecting on her statement, I was reminded of times in my life when I was undergoing something stressful, and how important it was to me to have the support of communal institutions where I could go for rest, relief, and understanding. Given the tenseness of society recently, I feel that these places are in need more than ever. This is not to say that the frustrations, anger, and worries plaguing people in our society should be stifled (quite the contrary), but rather that the two go hand in hand. At their best, places of sanctuary can provide people with a place to reflect on their actions and reconsider whether they were right. Similarly, they can help those who are in trouble develop a plan of action. When tenseness is all that exists, very little reflection and thought can occur. Just as democracy does not work when there is no discussion, it similarly does not work well when there is so much shouting that no communication actually takes place.
The following works highlight the utility of places of sanctuary, and discuss their proper role in modern life.
- Margaret Pabst Battin, Ethics in the Sanctuary: Examining the Practices of Organized Religion, Yale University Press, 1992.
- Peter Alagona, “A Sanctuary for Science: The Hastings Natural History Reservation and the Origins of the University of California’s Natural Reserve System,” Journal of the History of Biology, Winter 2012.
- Frank Schalow, Heidegger and the Quest for the Sacred: From Thought to the Sanctuary of Faith, Springer, 2001.
- Bryce Christensen, “Balkanized Bureaucracy or Utopian Sanctuary? The Crisis in the Modern University,” Modern Age, Summer 2014.
- Jacqueline Chase, “Becoming Sanctuary,” Pastoral Psychology, February 2011.
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