Welcome to Session 4—Friendship as Sanctuary.
It is so important to cultivate sacred friendships, to make space for people to experience giving and receiving the unconditional love that God extends to us.
Soul friends, or anam caras, can bring us joy, humor, understanding, compassionate listening, comfort, or consolation—and the intuition to know what we need sanctuary from. For nearly 17 years, I have met with a circle of friends to read and discuss spiritual books. We have gone through several iterations as members have, sadly, passed away, moved away or moved on, but we provide sanctuary for each other that I am grateful I can count on.
Consider the story of the Visitation.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. —Luke 1:39–40
Read “The Sanctuary They Make in Meeting” from Home by Another Way: A Retreat for Women’s Christmas by Jan Richardson (reprinted below):
“Here’s one way that I imagine it: having received her courageous yes, Gabriel turns and takes his angelic leave of Mary. A shimmering rush of wind, and he is gone. The light returns to normal, the objects in the room resume their familiar shapes. And Mary—young Mary, unmarried Mary, pregnant Mary— looks around. Finds herself quite alone. Places her head in her two hands and thinks, It seemed like a good idea at the time . . .
Luke tells us that after Gabriel’s departure, Mary goes “with haste” to visit Elizabeth. She knows, for Gabriel has told her, that her kinswoman is experiencing an unusual pregnancy of her own. Mary arrives at Elizabeth’s home, enters, and a scene unfolds that is among my favorites in all of scripture. Elizabeth no more than hears Mary’s words of greeting, and she knows what has happened. Luke tells us that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she cries out, Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord (Luke 1: 42–45).
I love how artists across the centuries have depicted this scene that is known as the Visitation: Elizabeth reaches out to Mary, places her hands on Mary’s belly, speaks her words of welcome and blessing. Mary reaches out in turn, her hands on Elizabeth’s arms or on her kinswoman’s belly that is swollen with the miracle child she has carried for six months now: the child, Elizabeth says, that leaps for joy in her womb. It is a dramatic scene, intense with the intimacy of the reaching out of these two women toward one another, holding onto each other for dear life.
Jane Schaberg writes of how Elizabeth, in this moment, appears as a prophet, though that title is not given to her. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth recognizes the One whom Mary carries, much as Anna the prophet will do in the temple in a few months’ time. Yet Elizabeth is not only a prophet here; she engages also in a priestly act as she speaks her words of blessing and places her hands upon the vessel that contains the Christ. I have often pondered this scene in terms of the way in which Elizabeth extends her hospitality to Mary, how her welcome is wondrous not merely for its complete absence of judgment of the pregnant, unmarried Mary but especially for her deep delight in what her cousin has done.
As I revisit this passage now, what strikes me most is not only how Mary finds a refuge in Elizabeth, but also how Elizabeth must find something of a refuge in her young cousin. There are few things more powerful than finding ourselves in a situation beyond our imagining, and encountering someone who knows, from the inside of it, something of what it is to be in that place; someone who can meet us there. Pregnant in strange and wondrous circumstances, Mary and Elizabeth each find perhaps the only other person who could possibly understand what’s happening to them. With one another, they find not just understanding (though that would be gift enough), not just hospitality (though that would be mercy enough); in one another, they find a shelter; in their meeting, they make a sanctuary.
In moments, Mary will raise her voice in an ancient song. Singing, after all, is part of what a sanctuary is for. In the relief and release she finds in Elizabeth’s welcome, Mary is freed to let loose with her words about the Word that is within her, and to pour forth her poetic proclamation of what God has wrought in her and in the world. Ah, but that’s another reflection for another time.
For now, we linger in the sanctuary, this sacred space that Mary and Elizabeth have made with their meeting, their embrace, their welcome, their knowing.”–Jan Richardson
For more insights on The Visitation, read the following article by Nadia Bolz Weber, You Are Not Alone; A Sermon on Mary, Elizabeth, and Being Given One to Another.
Particularly consider this excerpt: “We are given one to another. We are not alone. We belong to God and because we belong to God we belong to each other and perhaps this is the message of the birth of Jesus. After all, Emmanuel actual means God with Us…What was the incarnation if not God’s love overflowing the heavens and coming to be with us. As though to humanity, isolated from God and from each other God comes as a baby to say, “You are not alone.”
Consider journaling or making a collage card using the following questions as a guide.
- Are you Mary, needing to make a journey—literal or otherwise—to find the refuge you need?
- Are you Elizabeth, extending hospitality to another and, in doing this, finding a shelter you needed for yourself?
- Are you longing for a sacred space that hasn’t yet appeared?
- What might it take to begin to find it, to fashion it? Who can help?
- How can we make safe spaces for people to experience God?
Listen to the song Sanctuary by Charles Esten and Lennon & Maisy.
Give thanks for other relationships that bring sanctuary and for those who you can be a sanctuary for. This song, Sanctuary, is a reminder that my husband, Joe, is an ever-present sanctuary for me— always a refuge from the storm, always a safe place to fall. I am grateful for the sanctuary of marriage.
For the next session, we will do a SoulCollage® card reading. It would be helpful to have 3 or more cards created to do Session 5. Coming soon.