Parker Palmer: Sanctuary and Sacred Spaces

Parker Palmer: Seeking Sanctuary in Our Own Sacred Spaces

“Sanctuary is wherever I find safe space to regain my bearings, reclaim my soul, heal my wounds, and return to the world as a wounded healer. It’s not merely about finding shelter from the storm: it’s about spiritual survival. Today, seeking sanctuary is no more optional for me than church attendance was as a child.” —Parker Palmer, “Seeking Sanctuary in Our Own Sacred Spaces” in “On Being with Krista Tippett” (9/14/2016).

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Our news is full of churches, towns, cities who are providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants facing possible deportation—dreamers, many who have been working and living and raising families in our country for years. They sought a better life for themselves and their families and now fear losing all that is sacred to them.

Many who come to spiritual directors are also seeking a sanctuary for their sacred spaces, a chance to revive a spiritual life that once had been vibrant but now may seem lost. They had decided to live boldly and follow a road less traveled; but they have come to a spiritual fork in the road, or perhaps a dead end. They fear they have lost the spiritual life they once had. They are now on a path that seems uncharted.

Our ministry as spiritual friends is to be a sanctuary for the souls of those who seek our trust and guidance, especially at times when they feel isolated from their God connection. It can be a lonely time. We must treat as sacred this precious part of all people, that presence of God within each of us that is sometimes nearly undetectable. We must never lose sight of the privilege or the awesomeness of being asked to care for the soul of another, especially at a vulnerable time in that person’s life.

This is a holy trust, a rare chance to make a difference—just as our churches in years past were and in years to come will remain places of sanctuary. I am told that the red doors of some of our churches are an ancient sign of sanctuary within. When we meet with a spiritual friend, may we imagine that we are sitting together just within the protection of red doors.

We also are called to relate to other seekers in the world who need a sanctuary at this time of their life—in prayer and in person—remembering that we all are seekers, and we too are on an undocumented, uncharted path. Our hope is that we will have the courage to stand, sit, sleep, work, eat, and pray beside all who need sanctuary within the red doors of our churches, as well as within our minds and hearts.


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