I’ve found myself in our church sanctuary more often as of late.
I’ll freely admit the odd nature of that opening statement. One would think that the pastor of the church would spend the vast majority of his professional time on the church’s ‘home court.’ Our sanctuary is across the hall from our office and I walk by it numerous times each day. But in full transparency, my time in our sanctuary over these years has been limited to Sunday mornings.
So, what is it about the last few weeks that has changed?
Perhaps it’s a combination of a few things. First, our sanctuary is beautiful and transcendent at any time of the year, but it is particularly lovely during the Christmas season. Second, we’ve had the addition of a service or two this month that has demanded more of my time and attention in the sanctuary during the week. The third consideration, however, has the most bite. It’s this: I’ve been in greater need of sanctuary.
Which, of course, should surprise no one. Every one of us needs times of sanctuary.
I’m not talking about worship (yes, as children of God we are commanded to worship God). I’m referring to our Christ-like need to withdraw from the crowds, the madness, the discouragements, and the flurry of activity that we are immersed in to simply spend time in the presence of our Heavenly Father.
We seek out sanctuary because it is the place where God attends to our souls. Sanctuary is a place or an instance in which we can breathe deeply and become more aware of God’s presence. The experience of sanctuary is both comforting and liberating. When hidden away in the embrace of my Creator, I feel free to pray from the deepest parts of my being. I settle in to myself more quickly when I’m in a place of sanctuary and my pulse slows. My inner critic and most vocal demons fade to black and I can sense the strangest of sensations—peace.
The Advent and Christmas Seasons, for all their proclamations of peace and good cheer, are best understood as times of frenzied activity and panicked merry-making. In some circles, any suggestion of the challenges of the season are met with cold stares and disparaging labeling of someone’s Grinch-like or Scrooge-inspired inclinations.
Ah, but the practice of sanctuary (also known as Sabbath-taking, oh ye people of faith) is a balm to the Advent-wearied soul. By strategically practicing the spiritual discipline of sanctuary during the Christmas season, we are able to better appreciate the classic Christmas song, “Still, Still, Still.”
“Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.
For all is hushed,
The world is sleeping,
Holy Star its vigil keeping.
Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.”
Sanctuary can be experienced in a variety of ways. It can be felt after you’ve put your children down (and your devices, I suspect) while you sit by your Christmas tree. It can be savored on an evening stroll as snowflakes drift silently to the ground. It can be found while listening to great holiday music as you consider the proclamations of Christ’s birth in the evocative lyrics of old. It can be found in journal writing, and in the prayers at dawn that rise while you sip coffee on your front porch and listen to the frost form.
And Sabbath can happen in our church’s sanctuary, where we recall the power of God’s presence in a place of quiet power, remembrance, hope, and joy.
It’s open for you to drop in.
And I promise. The pastor won’t bother you if you do. You might just find him there as well.