These days this old word seems to be coming back into frequent use. Its original meaning of “holy” referred to a sacred place or a shrine, a refuge for safety in time of trouble. Eventually the term broadened to a nature preserve. Today it is used in the context of “sanctuary cities.” In any context, this word has to do with protection.
Last week, I visited a sanctuary known as the largest publicly owned conservatory under one roof in the world, the Garfield Park Conservatory on Chicago’s West Side. This landscape under glass was constructed between 1906 and 1908. Its founder, Jens Jensen, said “the country must come to the city.” Little did he know at the time just how much this troubled part of the city would need a sanctuary to escape the harsh realities of the street. This morning, the news reported multiple gun shots being fired in the surrounding neighborhood. Walking through the beautiful 65 foot high palm house I was thinking that if I had lived in this environment I would have brought my children there every day for a safe and beautiful walk.
The concept of sanctuary is important for all humans. We each must find those places where we feel safe enough to lay down our defenses for a while and breathe. For many of us, nature provides this experience of connection and exposure to beauty that heals and strengthens. For some, sanctuary may be a holy place or an art gallery, or a library. For some, sanctuary may be a room where we can just close the door for a while. It is in this sacred place of safety that we can remember who we are.