The noisiness of our world rings in our ears. Our reliance on technology causes us to plug into our devices more hours of the day than not. We can’t help but notice that our newsfeeds are filled with senseless violence, outrageous discrimination, mounting hardships, crumbling communities… the list goes on and on.
Claiming a desire to stay in the know, I choose to listen to, watch and absorb these endless stories. After a while, or maybe not so long, dark clouds of anger, pain and sadness settle so deeply that it is sometimes hard to feel anything else. I know the light of Christ is present, but can it really overcome the darkness that seems so pervasive? Is God really in control?
Seek refuge to find hope
In moments like these, I seek refuge in a calm place, set apart from the rattling keys that threaten to lock away my hope. Sometimes I take a walk. Sometimes I lay on the floor of my office, breathe deeply, cry and pray. Sometimes I sit in a church pew.
There is something about time spent in a church sanctuary that offers a deeper sense of peace and comfort. For me, it stirs memories of the historic United Methodist church building that felt like a second home during my childhood. I still clearly remember the beautiful stained glass windows, the majestic pipe organ and the booming voice of my pastor, who sang hymns in a deep baritone as his sermons came to a close.
Beauty in brokenness
Recently, a friend shared a photo of a shard of stained glass that had previously been part of a window in her church’s 102-year-old sanctuary, which was destroyed by a tornado. A church member had plucked pieces of glass from the rubble and turned them into art – visible reminders of the place that had meant so much to so many families for generations.
That little piece of glass resonated with me, bringing me back to rows of creaky pews filled with friendly faces, awash in colorful beams of light. But the note attached to this piece of art is what spoke to my soul.
In part, it said, “[This piece of glass] has witnessed many happy times, such as weddings, baptisms, Christmas programs, children’s programs and other joyful events. It has been through sad times like funerals and honoring young men sent to war. Through it all God’s light has shone through the beautiful stained glass. Many have said if you were having a bad day, just go to church, sit in the sanctuary and look at the beautiful windows and you will feel peace.”
What amazing things this glass has seen! What a celebration of this holy place! A place to worship, grieve, heal, seek and find. A place where the Spirit moved, people connected and countless memories were made. A place that is being rebuilt so that it can continue to serve as a beacon of hope.
We all have a sanctuary
A holy place just like this one exists for each of us – we can find it wherever we are. Our place, our sanctuary, might not have stained glass windows, or even walls, but it always has God’s presence.
God invites everyone to pause for contemplative rest. In it, we will find a safe place to bring our fear and frustrations. We can wrestle with the unexplainable, unanswerable and infuriating. And undoubtedly, if we open our hearts, we will discover endless grace.
Do moments spent in a sanctuary negate the negative noise? No. But time spent drawn away from the world can be the perfect counterbalance to darkness borne through conflict, devastation, hate and disaster. Whether you step away to a back porch, a bedroom floor, a closet or an actual church sanctuary, I pray that you’ll find holy ground where the Spirit can speak, surround you with the light of God’s love and fill you with peace.
Laura Buchanan works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact her by email.
This story was published on August 8, 2022.