I was in a chapel at a retreat center last November. It was a tiny chapel, very personal sized. It was big enough to hold maybe 20 people comfortably. There was an old carved wood altar with icons of Mary and Jesus on it. There were small votive candles and white linen altar coverings. The chapel had that warm musty smell that I associate with old hardback books and dusty buildings. I was alone, and it was raining and it was so late at night that it was early in the morning. I was likely to remain there, by myself, because of the rain and the time. I was doing something called an altar call, but I didn’t know it at the time.
I thought about how this room, this chapel, was different from the other rooms at the retreat center. There was something special about how this particular room was set aside for worshiping God and for no other purpose. Because I was by myself, I decided that it was OK to talk to God out loud, instead of quietly in my heart as I normally would do in a chapel.
I said, God, how come when we are in a place like this, we know that you are here? We feel different in a chapel. We feel calmer, more at peace. We feel at home in a way that we don’t usually feel at our own homes. How come we can’t have this feeling everywhere? How come we can’t have this feeling in the kitchen, or in the living room, or at work?
And I heard an answer back.
I heard “You are to make within yourself a sanctuary for me.”
And I thought, of course we are. When I heard this, it made perfect sense.
If we make ourselves into a living sanctuary for God, we will carry God with us, everywhere we go. Not only do we have that warm feeling of God’s presence with us, but we are then able to share that sense of calm and love with everyone we meet.
In the church I came from there are home Communion kits. They are small kits that enable Eucharistic Ministers (lay people who are licensed to distribute the Elements during Communion) to take Communion to members of the church who are unable to attend the worship service due to ill health. Such a kit has glass containers for the already-consecrated Bread and Wine, the Body and Blood, as well as linens and a tiny paten and chalice set. These kits are used just for this purpose.
With these kits, we are able to share Jesus with them, in a literal way. In this way, we are able to remind them that they are part of our family even though we are not able to worship together in the usual way.
By making within ourselves a sanctuary for God, we are becoming living home Communion kits. We are able to share the light and love of God with everyone. We are able to let everyone know that we are all part of one family where we are all brothers and sisters.
When I first started the discernment process to see if I was being called to be ordained I was asked to read a book by the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor. I was asked to point out what parts spoke to me. The part that got my attention the most was when she talked about her desire to take Communion out of the building and take it out to the sidewalk. She didn’t want the joy of Communion to be kept inside a building. She wanted it to be brought out into the middle of the busyness and bustle of everyday life.
Church buildings can feel very private, very members only. The people who need the healing light of God the most are those who don’t feel able to go inside a church. She wanted to take away the barriers between God and people by bringing God to them, rather than making them come to God.
I want this too. I want this more than I can possibly explain.
My priest misunderstood when I told her this was the part I liked the best. She sent me to a church service called “Church in the Yard”. It is an inner-city ministry that celebrates the Eucharist with homeless people, but instead of celebrating in the church building, it is outside, in the churchyard. While this was an enlightening experience, this wasn’t quite what I meant.
I want more.
I think the beauty of God is that He comes right to us. He doesn’t wait for us to be perfect or beautiful or fixed. He comes to us exactly as we are, right now. He doesn’t need us to go to a special place to know that we are special. He comes to us in our brokenness and our pettiness and our hunger. He comes to us in the middle of our day, unannounced, unassuming. He comes to us to let us know that we are loved beyond our understanding.
I don’t know if I’ve done it right, this “making a sanctuary” within myself. But I know that it is the answer. Because by carrying God within me, rather than thinking He’s out there, in a building far away, I have a sense of freedom that no minister ever taught me.