Last night I was speaking to an old friend whose dream is to build a sustainable earth village for battered women and children: a sanctuary. She is going to be knighted this year for her work in raising funds for programs to help them, yet she told me “after all these years it is still hard to get a safe place built for my work, but I keep hoping and dreaming”. Another friend wants to build safe housing for homeless refugees in Haiti after the earthquake and in the midst of epidemics, and another one says they are looking at every angle on how to make a safe community away from the grinding stresses of working two jobs daily in an depressed economy.

So what is this idea of “sanctuary”? What makes a sanctuary?

To explore the idea of sanctuary a good start is to look at other sanctuaries that have been made.

There are wildlife sanctuaries which are areas of land where certain birds, animals, plants and so on are encouraged to life to be safe and not to become extinct. These are protected from anything which could threaten their life. Other types of sanctuaries are refuges for people who are oppressed, where they can retreat and heal. Throughout its history, the United States has been a sanctuary for oppressed people emigrating from around the world and seeking asylum. Then there are religious sanctuaries which are meant to preserve something precious to a group of people, such as temples or shrines, mosques or churches, synagogues or other places of worship.

The dictionary posts Sanctuary as “a place of refuge or safety”, shrine – refuge – asylum – shelter – temple – sanctum.

It has a connotation of a place that is protected and safe and therefore holy. And the purpose is to preserve life within it.

So what is the essence of the sanctuary today?

Consider that a seedling – plant sanctuary is a greenhouse within a greenhouse, that is a smaller covered or insulated space within the main space. This is protecting from frost and nurturing the baby plant.

In harsh climates a courtyard is a sanctuary from rough winds and sun, by creating a micro-climate. There, the walls of the building, or even the neighbors’ walls protect the life inside.

Some people see their home as their sanctuary. It must survive severe weather, especially in today’s climate change world. Generally a home is seen as protecting life and love, and things like family, privacy, hospitality. But it can also protect one’s money if it is energy-saving.

Sometimes a sanctuary could be just a warm coat, unplugging the phone, or taking the day off work. And it could be a protected “personal space”, when a person stands up for their rights.

The space of a sanctuary has a perimeter and something precious within it. How do we recognize that something is precious? Well if this is a tangible, physical thing like a baby in a cot, or seedlings in a greenhouse, one’s family or a whole community, we may already believe that it is precious, and we simply want to celebrate that by defining it and protecting it.

But for what is precious but intangible, like peacefulness, happiness, or love, the process of putting a perimeter around a portion of something limitless, helps us to appreciate and recognize it, without defining it. Like having “a spoonful of happiness”.

Any building defines a space, even though Space may be infinite. For a example, a circle manifests this essence of preciousness and the feeling of cherishing and caring for what is within. But it also denotes the quality of infinite due to its inherent nature. An egg shows these qualities and allows the little chick to grow within. A strong wall manifests the strength of protectiveness. Materials also give us a tangible sense of qualities, for example the softness of earth, the strength of steel and rocks, the transparency of glass.

A building can also give us the sense that what it contains is a drop in an ocean, by many windows which make us aware that there is more beyond it. For example, a passive solar home conserves just a small amount of the infinite energy of the universe. Or an earthen home that has molded just a small part of this universal material into a life-space.

Or even a rainbow which arches over a place seeming to contain and protect it, yet actually is a refraction of light energy way beyond that place.

The ultimate sanctuary is “beyond this or that”, and is “a home for the soul”. Anywhere which can make that an everyday experience, could be called a sanctuary. As they say, “home is where the heart is”.

How does this sense of sanctuary become a tangible place, technically,  both physically and in the “imagination”? I’d like to invite the reader to write back with their experiences of what led them to any times they experienced this sense of sanctuary. How did it happen?  What made you feel that way. How did you recognize this feeling?

Thanks for reading and responding.

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