Sanctuary, for so many people, evokes a safe place. For me, though, sanctuary unnerves me.
The word’s meaning, according to Merriam-Webster, is
a place where someone or something is protected or given shelter
the protection that is provided by a safe place
the room inside a church, synagogue, etc., where religious services are held. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sanctuary
The word derives from the late Latin work, sanctuarium, which, according to http://www.latin-dictionary.org, means ,”place keeping holy things or private/confidential records.” So the word has pretty much not changed for at least 2,000 years.
I was brought up in an “evangelical” Methodist Church in Texas. Growing up, I had only seen this church and the church where my grandparents attended.
But within this very small, very isolated community, I was different from everyone around me. Two or three times a week, I had to file into the Sanctuary of this church and listen to the evangelical preacher. I saw everyone explode in unhinged emotion almost every time I stepped into that Sanctuary. Nothing made sense to me. The preacher spoke of miracles and a virgin birth. “He has risen, he has risen, indeed,” echoed from the pews of this Sanctuary constantly. You must have the faith of a mustard seed. You must believe. If you don’t, you will be condemned to hell.
But I did not feel safe in this place. It did not make me feel protected. With all of the commotion around me, it made me feel like everyone was in on this mythological game and I’m doomed to play it, day in and day out. Constantly. And stand to be ridiculed at the very least if I dare to blurt out that I think this is all ridiculous.
It was not a sanctuarium to me. Rather, it felt like a sanatorius, a sanatorium: “an establishment for the treatment of he chronically ill.” (Thanks again, Merriam-Webster.)
Now I know that people who are religious are not mentally ill. Religion and spirituality appear to be ingrained in our DNA. (Remember the “God Gene?”) While many of us are hard-wired to find “sanctuary” in religion, not all of us find comfort in its dogma, its stories, its beliefs, its overwhelming attempt to pull in everyone in its path. Question, but do not question too much. Don’t get wise-ass on Jesus.