Saturday, 22 August 2015


“This Place Is Sanctuary” by Kathleen McTigue taken from “Shine and Shadow”

You who are broken-hearted,
who woke today with the winds of despair
whistling through your mind,
come in.

You who are brave but wounded,
limping through life and hurting with every step, come in.
You who are fearful, who live with shadows
hovering over your shoulders,
come in.

This place is sanctuary, and it is for you.
You who are filled with happiness,
whose abundance overflows,
come in.

You who walk through your world
with lightness and grace,
who awoke this morning with strength and hope,
you who have everything to give,
come in.

This place is your calling, a riverbank to channel
the sweet waters of your life, the place
where you are called by the world’s need.
Here we offer in love.
Here we receive in gratitude.
Here we make a circle from the great gifts
of breath, attention and purpose.
Come in.

I was recently invited to an “open evening” at Timperley Community Church. The purpose of the evening was to discuss the new “Emergency Night Shelter” that will be opening there for those who find themselves homeless and who the council cannot give housing to in the coming winter months. There is currently no provision for this in Trafford and according to official statistics there is no real homelessness in Trafford. Official statistics claim that there are just two homeless people in the whole of the borough. I know from personal observation and experience that this is untrue.

The “Emergency Night Shelter” are seeking support in the community and from religious organisations. They are looking for volunteers to man the shelter as well as provisions such as socks, underwear, pillows and pillow cases, water proof clothing and toiletry packs. I will be endeavouring in the coming months to help in whatever ways I can. I have noticed in my five years as a minister in Trafford that there is a growing need for this provision.

Homelessness is on the increase in this country, I find this disturbing. What I find equally disturbing are attitudes toward people who find themselves in such situations. I do not like some of the language that I hear and the way that people are spoken of. I hear an alarming dehumanisation going on and it is not healthy for the soul of this country.

In 2013 112, 070 people declared themselves homeless in the UK, this is a 24% rises over a four year period. Official statistics submitted by local authorities show that the number of “rough sleepers” has increased from 1,768 in 2010 to 2,744 in 2014. “rough sleepers are only a small fraction of the total homeless population.

Local authorities have a statutory duty to house some homeless people, such as pregnant women, parents with dependent children and people considered for a variety of reasons as vulnerable. This rarely includes young single adults who are often hit the hardest. There are tens of thousands who find themselves in hostels. There are though not enough beds to provide for them all. Many fall into the category that are known as “hidden homeless”, more or less out of sight in B&B’s, squats, or on the floors of friends and families. I’ve been in this situation myself more than once in my lifetime. There is no security here, nowhere in which to build and or rebuild a life.

There are a variety reasons as to how and why people become homeless. There is of course an increasing problem with finding affordable housing as well as other poverty related issues. According to Crisis most men cite the reasons that they have become homeless as relationship breakdown, substance misuse and leaving an institution such as care, prison or hospital. Single women, who make up about a quarter of the clients of homelessness services are more likely to find themselves homeless as a result of physical or mental illness or after escaping a violent relationship. Whatever the reasons these are human beings and need to be seen and treated this way. They are no different to any of us. When we dehumanise one person, we dehumanise every single one of us. When we look into the eyes of a stranger we see our own eyes staring back at us.

All this got me thinking of a verse from the book of Hebrews chapter 13 V 2 "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." Do we show hospitality to these strangers in our very midst?

Showing hospitality and caring for the vulnerable in society is a key aspect of the Judeo - Christian and Islamic traditions. You will find it deeply rooted in the Abrahamic faiths and virtually every other world religion too. Hospitality is an essential spiritual practice. It begins with an open heart and a generosity of spirit. It’s about recognising the good in life and in people, especially those who find themselves in dire circumstances. It’s about recognising ourselves in those very same people. It’s about being open and welcoming to all, where ever they have been, where ever they are going and where ever they find themselves now. Tibetan Buddhist monks great the strangers visiting their temples with “Welcome, friend, from what noble spiritual tradition do you come.” The Christian monastic tradition has a long held practise of taking in strangers and offering them sanctuary as if they were Christ, inspired by those very words from Hebrews. In so doing they are following the example of Jesus who mingled with all people, there was no one left outside the city gate, no untouchables in his eyes.

Increasingly our age is becoming characterised by distrust, there is a fear of the strange and the stranger. The idea of assisting or taking in a stranger is not something most of us would want to do and the idea that we might be entertaining an angel just seems crazy. Is it though? Who knows what gifts can emerge in such encounters. Maybe when we welcome the stranger and give them sanctuary, in whatever ways we can, what we are actually doing is liberating ourselves from the bondages of selfishness and self centredness that we create. You see when we put barriers and blockades up to keep the unpleasantness of life out all we are actually doing is cutting ourselves off from the beauty present in life.

Living with hospitality and openness is another way, a better way. No it won’t change the world but it will change our every encounter and bring the healing of sanctuary to all involved. In the words of Joan Chittister “Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step toward dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around one heart at a time.” When we open our doors to those in need we open our hearts to a loving encounter and in so doing we do indeed greet angels. The angels in ourselves and the angels in the stranger.

All this talk of opening doors as well as offering welcome and hospitality has brought an ancient word into my mind, “Sanctuary”. I think the first time I heard the word was as a child watching Charles Laughton playing the “Hunchback of Notre Dam” and those immortal words “Sanctuary, sanctuary, Esmeralda you gave me water.” I think the second time was in the song by The Cult “She Sells Sanctuary”. I’m not sure I understood it then though. I have been thinking about it once again recently as I reflected on our world. “Sanctuary, who will offer shelter?” I have also been thinking of all those beautiful souls that have opened themselves to me in so many ways and given me sanctuary materially, emotionally, mentally and spirituality.

Now a sanctuary in its original meaning was a sacred place, such as a shrine. These places became safe havens for people in desperate need and fleeing persecution in medieval times. The word has developed and expanded in meaning over the centuries into a place of safety for humans and animals too. A place where we can be welcomed and made to feel at home and therefore thrive.

I like to think of my free religious tradition as a kind of sanctuary. A place where people can come and feel secure and safe as they are and then begin to thrive and grow spiritually with us. In so doing they can become sanctuaries and places of welcome and hospitality in the world. They can live with openness and give to those they meet in a loving way. For me being a Unitarian minister is about creating sanctuaries wherever I go and encouraging others to do likewise. Encouraging them to live openly and lovingly in a world that seems increasingly closed in and distrusting. It’s about encouraging people to do what they can, whatever that might be. In so doing they may well not only encounter angels, but become the angels that others encounter too.

Where can we offer hospitality and welcome in this world? Something perhaps to think about? How can we become a sanctuary? Where is the place of need in the world around? How do we begin to heal our world and offer hope and home to helpless and the hopeless? How do we welcome the stranger and encounter the angels of life? Perhaps it could begin by offering some support to the night shelter at Timperley Community Church, or similar things in your own towns and cities. That would certainly be a start and of obvious practical benefit, but it must also begin in our hearts and minds by us living more openly and lovingly, with heart filled courage. It begins with building a sanctuary in our own hearts and opening the doors to one another and greeting the stranger.

I’m going to end this chip of a "blogspot" with the following by Gordon B McKeeman “A Drop in the Bucket” taken from “Singing in the Night”

“A Drop in the Bucket”

What it says about inadequacy, futility, insignificance!
A drop in the bucket. What’s the sense? What’s the use?
We’re no longer in the center of things.

Copernicus removed the earth from the center of the solar system. Darwin removed humans from the center of the earth. Astronomy has removed the solar system from the center of the universe.

Well, who are we, then, and where are we?
Physiologists call us “weak, watery solutions, more or less jellified.”
Mark Twain said. “Man is the only animal that blushes-or needs to”
Just suppose that we are the merest drops in a bucket.

There are unspoken assumptions here.
We assume that a full bucket is what we’re aiming at and that until the bucket is full, nothing has been accomplished.

There is never a shortage of buckets. The empty bucket litany is long and tedious: racism, sexism, ableism, authoritarianism, oppression, injustice, violence, environmental degradation, overpopulation.

You feel like a drop in the bucket? Who asked you to fill the bucket - especially all alone?
Remember how many there are who share your concern. We may feel daunted, but we are not one drop. A sense of isolation is the parent of the drop-in-the-bucket feeling.

Sometimes one can decide the size of the bucket.
Don’t think you can do a large bucket? Try a smaller size. Even imparting a bit of hope - a pat on the back, a financial contribution, a few hours of volunteer service - every drop helps!

It might even be wise to remember why you need to help fill this bucket, possibly to quench the thirst of someone hard at work on a larger one.
that buckets of whatever size are filled a drop at a time. If you don’t help, it will take even longer.
that your drop may be one of the last ones needed. (Why is it that our image is of the first drop in the bucket?)
where we’d be if everybody gave up putting drops in the bucket? – probably much worse off.

Persistence depends on patience, on keeping at it when there is little to reassure us. It would be too bad to give up, to sit back, bemoan the sorry state of the world, and wonder why somebody, anybody, everybody (but not me, thank you) doesn’t do something about “it.”

After all, the Grand Canyon was fashioned by drops of water,
as ordinary as they seem.

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