Sanctuary: Separating the Separate

“Separation” comes from a Latin word that means “a severing.”  For millenia, human beings have recognized sacred spaces as places for the most persecuted among them to find refuge.  These places were almost always considered sacred to some deity. They were recognized by the community, including those who would otherwise persecute and/or seek to harm those seeking sanctuary.  That tradition continues into our own time as churches, synagogues, temples and mosques open their doors to refugees from injustice.

Is it not fascinating that in order for such sanctuaries from injustice to work, the society as a whole (which often participates in the persecution itself) must recognize the sanctuary as sacred space against which it cannot transgress?  Is it not somewhat absurd that sanctuaries as safe havens for the most persecuted must, in effect, create a separation so that those who are suffering the worst kinds of separation may be made safe?  Is it not deeply peculiar that places sacred to a society’s highest value become the point of refuge for that same society’s most neglected and least valued people?

There is promise in places that give sanctuary to those fleeing injustice.  There is witness in those who extend sanctuary to those who are persecuted.  The promise is that human separation and disenfranchisement eventually extends around to unity and acceptance. The witness is that the very same ones who create alienation and separation are themselves capable of welcoming and communion.  And there is the irony we bear as human beings.  We who create the realities of persecution, rejection, alienation and separation are also capable of acceptance, healing, welcoming and communion.

The very same people.  The very same hands.  The very same hearts.

I just have to be willing to open my eyes.  Today, my words, my actions, my habits, my silent and deeply personal attitudes, so silent, so deep that I barely allow even myself to hear them:  what will I do with them?  Will I use them to separate?  Will I use them to separate the separated from deeper separation?  I can do both.  I am a human being, and I have this incredible, confusing, promising, damning, hope-fill set of possibilities.

In my hands.  Today.

Bob Patrick

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