The Sanctuary Within Us

By Ken Woodley

Here we are again. Once more, there will be no Sunday services at my church for the foreseeable future because of COVID-19.
In the spring, the initial pandemic-driven cessation of services came just before Easter. Now, after a few months of services, the second forced hiatus comes less than two weeks before Christmas.
Perhaps some of you are facing the same challenge at your own places of worship.
The steps of this journey haven’t been easy. But life isn’t one tranquil step after another. Each of us lives that daily truth in a way that is unique to us but part of our common human condition.
A condition that Jesus shared with us, too.
The terrain of our journey is rough, tricky. It is easy to stumble on some hidden twist, an unforeseen turn along the way. What an unforeseen bend in our road the coronavirus has proven to be.
It is so easy to fall at times like this. Especially emotionally. Mental and spiritual bruises happen. They just do. But we help each other back up again and put each other’s feet on a straight path where God is leading us.
And we are still being led by God, whether we are gathered in the same place—church, temple, synagogue—or not.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, Jesus encourages humanity throughout the Gospels. Sometimes those words are much easier to read, and type, than it is to add them to the yeast of our daily bread.
We are not alone. We have the Holy Spirit and we all have each other.
Even now, we are on a journey toward one another, a journey in and with the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus promised his disciples in Galilee and promises us today.
Yes, for now the doors of my church will not be opening for Sunday services.
But my church is not closed. Nor does your place of worship have to be.
If we keep our hearts and souls open, our churches are open too.
Wherever we are, there, too, is St. Anne’s or St. Stephen’s or the Immaculate Redeemer, open to the world, standing in our shoes.
Yes, the terrain of this zigging zag in our journey’s road is tough. But it can prove spiritually rewarding, too, if we let it. Just as lifting weights makes us physically stronger.
Don’t forget that very first Christmas. The one in Bethlehem after the long, hard journey from Nazareth for Joseph and Mary. That wasn’t easy, either.
The months in exile afterwards, with a newborn son, would be even harder still.
But the angels sang to the shepherds, anyway. Oh my, how they did sing.
And they are going to sing this Christmas, too.
No, our churches are not closed.
Neither are we.
Just ask the “angels” from our church’s Angel Tree, and yours, who’ll be opening presents on Christmas Day.
I definitely know that we all feel the temporary loss of our church services, especially now at Christmas. Tears filled my eyes last Sunday when I learned that service would be the final one, for now. I had to stop myself from audibly weeping.
The sanctuary of my church is a truly sacred space and I will go there to pray on my own, from time to time, feeling the spirit of my congregation’s communal presence.
And that is so important to remember: all places of worship are revered spaces but they are also a spirit we all share.
No pandemic can cancel that spirit. No pandemic can even touch it.
We will be together again in that sanctuary some day.
Until then, let’s carry that sanctuary within us.
And keep its doors always open to all.

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