What exactly is a sanctuary? The root of the English word is the Latin sanctus, which means “holy.”
Over time, however, the word sanctuary came to take on another, related, meaning. It came to mean a place of safety or refuge, especially for someone in danger or being threatened unjustly. For a time in the Middle Ages, people could actually take refuge in a church and be legally protected. This was abolished by English Civil Law in the early 17th century.
Sometimes, each of us needs a sanctuary–in the first sense of the word. We need safe places to rest, to think, to be, to talk. Sometimes our sanctuary is a person, someone we trust and to whom we can confide our fears and problems. Sometimes our sanctuary is a place, somewhere we feel safe and comfortable, where we can sort things out for ourselves. Sometimes our sanctuary is more abstract, our faith, our imagination, our own private mental or spiritual haven.
Whatever our personal sanctuaries are, they have one thing in common, they are spaces in which we feel protected, nurtured, loved, cared for, and believed in, where we can be ourselves in the truest sense of the word. Sanctuary is where we can stand up against the injustice we experience in our lives and know our words will be heard. Sanctuary, at its heart, is about listening and loving and knowing that someone cares while we work through our troubles.
Ultimately, we are called to be living sanctuaries for one another. We can make an enormous difference in the lives of others when we stand up for them, when we make space in our lives for them, and when we allow others to do the same for us.