The following link is to an interview I enjoyed providing on WUTC with Dante’s Old South program last Fall. It includes a brief six-minute reading of the opening chapter of Sanctuary, A Legacy of Memories.
Alice Malsenior Walker was born on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. She was the eighth and youngest child of Minnie and Willie Lee Walker – struggling sharecroppers, but abundant in spirit and love.
Her father’s great-great-great grandmother Mary Poole was a slave forced to walk from Virginia to Georgia with a baby in each arm. Her mother’s grandmother Talluhah was mostly Cherokee Indian. Alice is deeply proud of her cultural heritage.
After graduating from high school in 1961, Alice attended Spelman College in Atlanta. Alice’s mother gave her three special gifts before she left home: a sewing machine for self-sufficiency, a suitcase for independence and a typewriter for creativity.
While at Spelman, Alice participated in civil rights demonstrations and was invited to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s home in 1962 at the end of her freshman year. She then attended the Youth World Peace Festival in Helsinki, Finland and traveled throughout Europe the following summer. This spawned her love for travel and encountering the many peoples and cultures of the world.
In August 1963 Alice traveled to Washington D.C. She couldn’t see much of the main podium but heard Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” address.
During her junior year, Alice received a scholarship to Sarah Lawrence College in New York. She became one of a handful of black Americans at the prestigious university.
While at Sarah Lawrence, her additional world traveling opportunities broadened her mind. During her senior year, Alice realized she was pregnant. Frightened and not knowing how to tell her parents, Alice considered committing suicide. She turned to poetry, trying to come to terms with her feelings and worst fears. Alice eventually chose to have an abortion.
During her recovery from the depression and anxiety she had suffered, Alice wrote a short story aptly titled “To Hell With Dying.” Her mentor Muriel Ruykeyser sent the story to publishers as well as to the poet Langston Hughes. To Alice’s delight, the story was published and she received a hand-written note of encouragement from Hughes. Alice was just 21 years old.
After graduating from Sarah Lawrence in 1965, Alice returned to Georgia and participated in the civil rights movement once again, but returned to New York City in the fall of 1965. But the struggle in the South beckoned her back, wherein during the summer of 1966 she again registered voters door-to-door in Mississippi where she fell in love with Mel Leventhal, an equally passionate Jewish law student who handled civil rights cases. She returned to New York city with him where he was attending law school.
While working on her first novel, Alice and Leventhal wed and moved back to Mississippi where he could pursue civil rights litigation. Despite threats of physical violence due to their inter-racial marriage, Alice worked as a black history teacher for the local Head Start program.
Alice continued her writing, accepted a teaching position at Jackson State University and published her first volume of poetry, “Once.” Walker became pregnant and finished her first novel “The Third Life of Grange Copeland” the same week her daughter Rebecca Grant was born.
Alice’s novel received literary praise but also criticism. The story involves the murder of a woman by her husband. Many black critics said she dealt too harshly with the black male characters in her book. Alice rebutted such claims, saying that women are all too often abused by men they love.
In 1972 she accepted a teaching position at Wellesley College where Alice began one of the first women’s studies courses in the nation, a women’s literature course. She also wanted to introduce her students to black women writers. In her search for material, she found Zora Neale Hurston, a much forgotten Harlem Renaissance writer. She would later edit an anthology of Hurston’s work and place a memorial on Zora’s unmarked grave in Florida.
Seemingly inspired by this new heroine, Alice wrote fervently. In 1973 she published her first collection of short stories, “In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women” and her second volume of poetry “Revolutionary Petunias & Other Poems.”
After numerous awards, she became an editor for “Ms. Magazine,” and by 1976 published her second novel, “Meridian.” The book chronicled a young woman’s struggle during the civil rights movement. At the same time, her marriage to Leventhal ended.
“Meridian” received much acclaim and Alice accepted a Guggeheim Fellowship to concentrate full-time on her writing. She left “Ms.” and moved to San Francisco where she still maintains a residence today. There Alice published her second book of short stories, “You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down,” and in 1982 finished “The Color Purple,” which earned her the Pulitzer Prize, American Book Award and escalated Alice to worldwide fame.
When the movie “The Color Purple” premiered in her hometown of Eatonton, Alice received a hero’s welcome and parade in her honor. Her sister Ruth began “The Color Purple Foundation” which does charitable work for education.
In 1984 Alice published her third volume of poetry, “Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful.” She followed this in 1988 with her second book of essays, “Living By the Word.” In 1989 she published her epic novel “The Temple of My Familiar.”
Alice next published another volume of poetry, “Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems.” In 1991 she published a children’s story, “Finding the Green Stone.” This was soon followed by her fifth novel “Possessing the Secret of Joy” which chronicles the psychic trauma of one woman’s life after forced genital mutilation. She also wrote a companion book “Warrior Marks” chronicling her experiences.
In 1996 Alice published “The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult” in which she describes through essays and journal entries the loss of her beloved mother and her own battle with Lyme disease and depression. The book also contains Alice’s own version of the screenplay to “The Color Purple” and many of her notes and remembrances from the making of her novel into a film.
The next year Alice published another non-fiction title “Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer’s Activism” with more essays inspired by her ever-expanding political activism. Alice remains an outspoken activist on issues of oppression and power and championing the victims of racism, sexism, and military-industrialism.
In September 1998, Alice published “By the Light of My Father’s Smile”. Her first novel in six years, the book examines the connections between sexuality and spirituality. The multi-narrated story of several generations explores the relationships of fathers and daughters.
Alice’s newest work is a collection of stories called “The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart.” The stories combine autobiography and fiction as Alice examines the bindings and breakings of relationships with friends and family and lovers.
Alice Walker truly exemplifies the power of the Southern Voice in American literature.
Fiercely loyal to her native South and abiding faith, Flannery O’Connor held little patience for those who saw her depiction of the South as a caricature and who felt she could not possibly share or take seriously the religious preoccupations of her characters. But neither her critics nor the lingering health struggles over the last fifteen years of her life – a time of great suffering – could prevent her from preserving the integrity of a body of work that, however lacking in bulk, places her securely in the first rank of American fiction writers of the twentieth century.
Mary Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia, on March 25, 1925 – the only child of Edward O’Connor, Jr., and Regina (Cline) O’Connor. Both her parents’ families had emigrated from Ireland to Georgia in the nineteenth century. The O’Connors were also Catholics in a Protestant-dominated South, and Flannery’s education came from a series of parochial schools.
In 1938, her father’s real estate business had suffered during the Depression; he began working as a real estate appraiser for the Federal Housing Authority, which required the family to relocate to Atlanta. O’Connor and her mother chose to live in Milledgeville. Her father struggled with lupus, which ultimately consumed his life in 1941.
From 1938 to 1945, O’Connor received her primary education in Milledgeville. While in high school she wrote and drew cartoons for the school newspaper. At Georgia State College for Women, also in Milledgeville, she earned a bachelors of arts in English and Sociology. And more significantly, she dropped her first name and wrote under the name of Flannery O’Connor.
From 1945 to 1948, she did postgraduate work at the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she undertook a formal course of reading that introduced her to the work of modern writers such as Joyce, Kafka, and her fellow Southerner William Faulkner. After several unsuccessful efforts to get published, her fiction began to be accepted both by popular magazines such as Mademoiselle and journals such as The Sewanee Review. She also won the Rinehart-Iowa Fiction Award for her novel in progress, earning her an award of $750 and a contract with Rinehart and Company to publish the book upon its satisfactory (to them) completion.
During 1948 and 1949, O’Connor worked on her book at an artists’ colony near Saratoga Springs, New York. She boarded at the home of noted poet Robert Fitzgerald and his family in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Friction developed with Rinehart when O’Connor refused to revise her book according to the publisher’s editorial suggestions and they characterized her as uncooperative. She obtained her contractural release and signed a contract with Harcourt, Brace, 1951.
She began to suffer pains in her arms and shoulder joints and developed a high fever on her train trip to Georgia for Christmas. She was hospitalized on her arrival and like her father was diagnosed with lupus. She never again would she be completely healthy, but through therapy and a strict diet recovered sufficiently to complete her novel- titled Wise Blood, published in 1952. In contrast to her experience with Rinehart, she was quite responsive to editorial insight and advice–and would remain so throughout her life.
Though O’Connor remained a devout Catholic, her stories usually focused upon mainstream Southern whites who professed the Protestant faith of fundamentalist and often highly idiosyncratic tendencies.
She continued to write and to publish short stories, including “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” which first appeared in 1953 in a paperback anthology called The Avon Book of Modern Writing, and two years later became the title piece of A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories. This collection was praised by reviewers, and it sold unexpectedly well for a book of short fiction.
Despite continuing health problems, O’Connor continued living and working with her mother on their family farm. Her second novel, The Violent Bear It Away, published in 1960 to mixed reviews.
O’Connor saw her reputation consolidated in the early 1960s with several essays on her fiction in the Summer 1962 issue of the Sewanee Review and the publication in 1963 of her three books in a one-volume paperback edition called Three by Flannery O’Connor.
At the end of 1963, she suffered a pre-Christmas fainting spell that led to the diagnosis of a fibroid tumor, which was surgically removed in February 1964. Fearing the worst, she devoted her remaining strength to finish the last two of the nine stories planned for her forthcoming collection, Everything That Rises Must Converge. The book appeared in 1965 but as a posthumous publication. O’Connor died on August 3, 1964, at the age of thirty-nine.
In the carefully crafted prose of the two novels and nineteen short stories that she deemed worthy of book publication, she created a gallery of fantastic-seeming but deeply felt and sympathetic characters, in whose stories the humorous often gives way with sickening swiftness to the horrible, and whose lives, however twisted and tortured they may become, remain steadfast searches for the healing power of grace.
Although many writers in this century have sought to catch the flavor of what critics customarily term “Southern gothic,” O’Connor is unsurpassed in the mingling of violence and beauty, of the glorious and grotesque, that is her particular mood and theme.
After a broken ankle immobilized her in 1926, Margaret Mitchell began developing a manuscript that would become Gone With the Wind, ultimately published in 1936. The success of Gone With the Wind made her an instant celebrity and earned a Pulitzer Prize for Margaret Mitchell, and the famed film adaptation released three years afterward. Over 30 million copies of Mitchell’s Civil War masterpiece have been sold and translated into 27 languages. Tragedy struck in 1949 when Mitchell was struck by a car, leaving Gone With the Wind as her only novel.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Mitchell experienced tragic twists and turns; with the loss of her mother in 1918 and then four years later and four months after her wedding, her first husband abandoned the marriage. She wrote nearly 130 articles for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine during that troubled time. By 1925 with her first marriage officially annulled, Mitchell married John Robert Marsh who encouraged her writing during her recovery from a broken ankle in 1926. By 1929, she nearly finished her thousand page Civil War and Reconstruction era story – A romantic novel, written from a Southern woman’s point of view, steeped in the history of the South and the tragic outcome of war.
Rest of the story lies in what happened next…
However, the grand manuscript remained tucked away until 1935 until she reluctantly out of fear showed it to a traveling book editor, who visited Atlanta in search of new material, and the rest is history.
What motivated the book editor to leave his ivory-tower office in New York City?
Southern authors during the decades since earned a warmer reception from the dominant publishing houses as the appeal for Southern stories grew.
What Southern stories rest on your bookshelves at home as a testimony to their lasting imprint on our lives?
(Click the hot link above to see the full interview at the ACFW webpage)
By Tiffany Amber Stockton – July 2, 2018
T. M. “Mike” Brown has recently released his second novel, Testament, the sequel to the award-winning, Sanctuary.
Welcome, Mike. What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
Life offers unexpected twists and turns, but God designed this roller coaster ride we refer to as life. At every twist and turn lies a choice to be made – some clear-cut and others not so much, but each decision usually rests between what is right and what may seem best. Whether what is right and what appears as best are compatible or in conflict, we should always trust what is right and allow God to use our circumstances for His glory, even if the choice embarks us onto an uncharted and uncertain path. It’s amazing how our faith strengthens when our future appears bleak, and shadows lurk at every turn we can see.
Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Never allow your judgment to be clouded by fancy promises and lots of smiles and friendly handshakes. Do your due diligence. The publishing journey entails what appears to be unwelcome pitstops and painful advice. There are no shortcuts to success. Embrace the pitstops and opinions provided, and invest in and trust your editor. Proofread before you submit to your publisher and again after they hand you the advance reader copy of your book. Take the extra time to proof carefully. It’s kinda like inspecting your child before his or her first prom dance.
How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
As a former preacher and teacher, my faith and spiritual walk played a sizable part in deciding my stories. I decided to write to the broad audience and use Southern small-town life as my setting so it would naturally interject some of my faith values and spiritual dilemma decision-making without preaching a good story. Those who have a firm church foundation will get a slightly different take on my stories than a non-churched reader. I have found this to be very accurate in book club discussions by the nature of the questions and responses shared. I am a firm believer that we should eagerly cross the bridge to meet people where they are at in life without casting judgment, and hopefully bonding on familiar ground. In the end, I pray those seeking God no matter their background will hear a message that helps them in their search.
On a quick note: The most memorable portions of the biblical narrative are not verbatim verses we struggle to memorize but the stories and parables we learn early in life that speak about God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.
What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
That is a tough one. Seems something new is around every corner. The celebrity aspect makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. However, a better answer would be the cumulative moments that have created memories of how my wife and family have been with me throughout the journey. Connie, my wife of the past 45 years, travels to every event and invests her talents to help make each event special for everyone we meet. For this reason, I believe the most significant moment of my writing/publishing lies yet around the next corner.
What have you learned from writing a sequel?
The sequel is always more comfortable to write than the first! There was so much I learned writing Sanctuary. First of all, I did not have a sequel in view when writing it. It wasn’t until some of my Beta readers urged me to write a sequel and my publisher then asked if I would consider it too. Thankfully, my editor and writing coach smiled and remained on board for the year it took to complete the sequel. A far cry from the nearly 2-1/2 years for the first.
What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I write what I know best. I love Southern time-lost towns. They offer the most intriguing settings and indeed the most entertaining character opportunities. Besides my father and his parents had country roots in Georgia, and through the writing of my stories I reconnected and recognized why my father raised us as he did through my siblings and me were raised in suburban settings and far from the countryside he used to talk about. I miss my father and grandfather but found in writing my stories many long-forgotten memories, and tall-tales about our family surfaced and became a part of my stories.
You have a significant amount of Biblical, theological, and literary history featured in the background story for Sanctuary. How did this passion for history come about?
One cannot look to the future without knowing where you have traveled from. I learned at the U. S. Coast Guard Academy, you plot your ship’s course beginning from where you’ve traveled to where you want to go. My love for history is quite the same. If you neglect the past, you’ll most likely make the same mistakes and continue to wander off course. In seminary, I majored in Church History which has helped me to teach biblical studies from the position of knowing the context of the biblical passages to understand and apply the content to life today. In Testament, I added more history to my little town of Shiloh because I believe, what has played out in the past ultimately shapes what and why the future reveals. It is writing the context to explain the content of the present story…
What led you to choose the genre in which you write?
My grandkids will read my stories more readily than my biblical writing and sermons, or any of my expository papers about my beliefs. So, as I said above, my wife reminded me the value of stories and parables which planted the seed for what turned out to become the Shiloh mystery stories.
Of course, someday I may sit down and rewrite to publish some of my biblical studies as I had planned, but for now, I’m enjoying entering lil’ ol’ Shiloh with all its colorful and quirky characters whispering in my head nearly every day. Besides, I can work through Dr. Arnie Wright, Shiloh’s Baptist preacher boy, to communicate valuable messages I’d like to share.
How do you feel the setting a small town differs from a more suburban or urban setting? What do small towns offer that the suburbs might not?
That’s easy. Faith, family, food, and yes, even football have a life of its own in a small southern town. Church-life is more social and connected by bonds of multi-generational families. Country cooking is the grease that spins tall-tales faster and spreads gossip further. Maybe it’s the sweet tea, peach cobbler, fried chicken, smoked ribs, grits, and handmade biscuits. Of course, cooking in the kitchen is an art, a way of life in the country that suburbanites or citified folks just don’t rightly understand. In the small-towns, life just moves at its own pace, and it’s the seasons, the sun rising and setting, and the weather that dictates what any particular day holds. In small-towns, knowing other people’s business ain’t being nosey, it’s just neighborly. As a result, there are less locked doors and more handshakes shared in small towns.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
Sharing time with my family, mainly my five grandkids. They’re growing up faster with each new day. When not with the grandchildren, Connie and I enjoy our expanding author network and find opportunities to help other aspiring writers when we can.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
Baldacci’s, The Fix right now, but Terry Kay’s, The Kidnapping of Aaron Greene is next up. Of course, my reading takes second place to my writing so I don’t read as much as I would like.
Finish this statement: In the future, I will…
Hopefully look down from heaven and smile as my granddaughter shares the book her “Poppy” wrote with her granddaughter. She’ll laugh as she points to where she makes her cameo appearances in my stories along with her brothers and cousins, and of course, “Grammy” too.
Any parting words?
Enjoy the journey on which you are engaged. Laugh at yourself and with others. Success is a journey, not a destination, and comes sans any shortcuts. Allow God the final word on all decisions you get to make in life.
Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having an active imagination and a flair for the dramatic. Today, she has honed those skills to become an award-winning author and speaker who works in the health & wellness and personal development industries, helping others become their best from the inside out. She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have a daughter and son, and a Shiba Inu-mix named Nova. She has sold over 20 books so far, three of which have won annual reader’s choice awards. She is represented by Tamela Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. www.amberstockton.com.
Testament, An Unexpected Return (ISBN 9781641110846)
Sanctuary, A Legacy of Memories (ISBN 9781641110730)
Go to the bookstore tab to order your copy of either or both novels. Available in Kindle or Paperback. You can also email me to discover the nearest indie bookstore to you to get your copies as well.
My wife, Connie, cleaned our garage today. We discovered two boxes of First Edition copies of Sanctuary – 30 books! They are no longer in print since the revised, updated 2nd edition released in January 2018. So what should I do? How about a limited quantity, Sanctuary Special Offer?
What’s the difference?
1st Edition, February 2017
2nd Edition, January 2018
First edition does not include the new epilog and the reviews on the back cover. Also, the first edition was printed by Ingram/Lightning Source as a Print-on-Demand book, which I never liked. That’s why all my new books are quality printed by my new publisher. Otherwise, there is virtually no noticeable difference, and it’ll be a cost-effective means to prepare you for the new sequel, Testament, An Unexpected Return (March 2018).
If you’d like to save $8.00 plus the postage so you can read Sanctuary: On a first. come, first serve basis, you can get this limited quantity of signed copies, postage paid, for only $10.00.
Before I reveal a very special limited time offer:
NOTE: There’s something special brewing regarding my Shiloh series stories. Stay tuned for more announcements about the expanding distribution news in the month of June! Palmetto Publishing Group is growing in its reach to connect readers, booksellers, and authors.
In the meantime, please visit your local bookstore; if they do not have either of my books on their shelves yet, they can easily order a copy. More and more independent bookstores are being added weekly to the list who have or will be hosting one of my author events and will stock my books.
In the meantime, FOR A LIMITED TIME, get your copy of SANCTUARY, A LEGACY OF MEMORIES for only $2.99 (KINDLE on Amazon) or through my webpage’s bookstore for the Book Club Price of only $15.25, a savings of $1.70 from even its new $16.95 retail price. And, this limited-time, exclusive offer includes free postage! Save time and money… All orders placed on my bookstore webpage are handled via safe and secure PayPal services.
HURRY! This offer expires as of FATHER’S DAY, June 17th!
For the retail price of $15.95, you can order a signed copy of TESTAMENT, An UnexpectedReturn and it will arrive signed, postage prepaid.
BEST DEAL! Order both Sanctuary & Testament for only $32.00, includes postage under this limited-time, exclusive offer for orders placed through my bookstore page.
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: I hope you will also sign up to receive future updates and Southern Ponderings from yours truly. To comply with the changing privacy concerns, I would like to confirm that at no time will I ever misuse or abuse your personal information. Your email subscription is strictly for receiving periodic updates from this website or my coachbrown.org webpage. If at any time you wish to unsubscribe, I will not be offended. I am like you and only wish to receive in my email materials that interest, entertain, or inform me. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or concerns.
Have a fun and safe summer! I also hope to meet and greet you personally at one of my upcoming author events in the coming weeks and months! In the meantime, I hope you’ll take advantage of this limited offer to get Sanctuary. I am wagering like other before you, once you read Sanctuary, you’ll be hooked and will want to continue reading about Theo and Liddy’s adventures in lil’ ol’ Shiloh.
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What is behind the title of my Southern novel, Sanctuary, A Legacy of Memories? An insight into the concept of Sanctuary that plays out inside my story. T. M. Brown
HOW HAVE WE MISUSED AND MISUNDERSTOOD SANCTUARY?
Did You Know? Historically, churches have been places where fugitives could seek temporary protection from the law. In Anglo-Saxon England, churches and churchyards provided 40 days of immunity; neither sheriffs nor the army would dare enter to seize an outlaw. However, over time the right of sanctuary eroded as monarchs no longer feared Church authority, beginning with Henry VIII in 1486.
In the 1980s US churches provided sanctuary to Central American political refugees, and the US government mostly chose not to interfere. Today, we have established wildlife sanctuaries where refuge for the protected species is provided within its boundaries, and farm-animal sanctuaries rescue livestock from abuse and starvation.
But the term sanctuary grips the headlines today as local governments and institutions defy federal laws and claim legal rights of sanctuary?
Let’s consider the origination of the term and its meaning.
The Middle English term of sanctuarie derived from the Anglo-French and Late Latin word, sanctuarium, which likewise grew from the old Latin sanctus, means a “holy or sacred” place.
The first known use of the term sanctuary was in the 14th century during the beginning of the Renaissance. A period in history when the Roman Catholic Church held dominion over the affairs of government, science, the arts, and academia. Early Church scholars began to translate ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts into Latin, Sanctus replaced the Hebrew terms, qodesh or miqdash, meaning set-apartness. Also, depending on context, the Hebrew word debyir also was translated as Sanctus, though it relayed the idea of a set apart room inside a temple, inferring a holy of holies. A prescribed, protected room where oracles or priests communicated with God. For example, Solomon’s building project in 1 Kings 6 (v.5,16,etc.).
Here are some passages where “sanctuary” or its synonyms have replaced the original Hebrew:
You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance— the place, LORD, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established. Exodus 15:17
Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:30
Do not be stiff-necked, as your ancestors were; submit to the LORD. Come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever. Serve the LORD your God, so that his fierce anger will turn away from you. 2 Chronicles 30:8
They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name. Psalm 74:7 (a post-exile psalm)
I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. Ezekiel 37:26
What or who made anything a sanctuary, a holy or sacred place where God dwelt to inspire the hearts, minds, and souls of men?
In the Bible, the Greek term hagios carried the meaning of something holy or sacred. The term Saints is actually derived from “o hagios,” inferring to holy ones, and the Holy Spirit comes from the notion of the ultimate holy one. However, the term naos in Greek infers a set apart or most holy room or area in a temple or shrine – similar to what we now call the sanctuary or the worship area inside a church building.
Even Jesus admonished the misuse of anything holy or sacred. Matt 7:6, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
What made a person, place or thing holy, sacred, or set-apart? Or, Biblically consecrated?
Since there is but one who is the standard of holiness, the author and perfecter of all persons or things deemed sacred or holy, let us ask a simple question: Who then establishes a sanctuary? Man or God?
How did the concept of sanctuary morph into a legally prescribed safe place, an asylum, or place of refuge?
Granted in the Bible, cities of refuge were established, reference the settling of the Israelites in the Promised recorded in Numbers and Joshua. But, the Hebrew term miklat specifically meant “places that take in” – an asylum or refuge, not a sanctuary. The Hebrew word khasa also inferred taking flight to seek protection, or figuratively, confide in, hope in, or trust in, but still not the same as entering a sanctuary.
Even in the Greek word katapheugo used in New Testament also speaks of fleeing for safety.
So how did the Latin term Sanctus, later sanctuarium or sanctuaries become associated with the connotation of safety and protection from the law?
Let’s begin by considering the notion of the biblical concept of cities of refuge. What purpose did they serve? Did entry into the city of refuge remove the consequences of their sins or guilt?
Cities of refuge were intended to offer protection from hasty acts of blood revenge by angry relatives. However, guilt or innocence still needed to be established by an assembly of elders in the designated refuge city. If determined guilty of murder, death came after a proper course of justice not some act of vengeance. (Ref. Numbers 35; Joshua 20)
However, by the rise of the early Roman Catholic Church, the idea of finding refuge in a church sanctuary existed, and legal authorities could not pursue a fugitive into a church, as I shared in the opening. So, where did this non-biblical idea of sanctuary come to be?
The ancient Greeks and Romans established their version of what a sanctuary or sacred place entailed from which later romanticized medieval laws developed. In Greek and Roman society, temples celebrating their gods could harbor runaway slaves and criminals to a certain extent. These early asylums developed under the belief that their god(s) were inviolable and their temples or holy sites shared this consecrated or untouchable aspect. But, these sacred places were not hideaways where fugitives could go to thumb their nose at the authorities. Petitioners seeking sanctuary still had to atone and pay penance for their crimes.
It is widely accepted, the earliest Christians recognized that pagan temples offered sanctuary or a haven for criminals, and they certainly did not want to be outdone by their pagan rivals. Thus, Christian churches extended criminals protection as well, hoping that asylum seekers might be converted or offered a chance to repent. In the eyes of the early Church, Holy God should provide a more reliable refuge for the sinner than any pagan god and his or her temple.
As Christianity spread across Europe, the Church’s model for sanctuary protections traveled with it. Their codified and standardized version of offering sanctuary became the process best known today.
For asylum seekers to gain sanctuary, they had to enter a church and wait for an appointed officer of the crown (known as a coroner) to arrive. Once the coroner arrived, the seekers had to confess to their crime, whether they committed it or not, and they were then under the protection of the Church. But, slowly, sanctuary laws were rolled back. The number of eligible crimes eligible for sanctuary protection shrank. By 1624, standard sanctuary laws were abolished, making fugitives no safer in a church than they were in the streets.
Who defined the concept of sanctuary? God or the Church?
A. W. Tozer wrote, “The whole world has been booby-trapped by the devil, and the deadliest trap of all is the religious one. Error never looks so innocent as when it is found in the sanctuary. The farther we push into the sanctuary, the greater becomes the danger of self-deception. The deeply religious man is far more vulnerable than the easygoing fellow who takes his religion lightly. This latter may be deceived, but he is not likely to be self-deceived. Under the pressure of deep spiritual concern, and before his heart has been wholly conquered by the Spirit of God, a man may be driven to try every dodge to save face and preserve a semblance of his old independence. This is always dangerous and if persisted in may prove calamitous.”
+ + +
So what do I think about the notion of sanctuary? Here are but two offerings from my 15 years of devotional introspection about what sanctuary means…
Value Works Over Words
Guard your step when you go to the house of God. Better to draw near in obedience than to offer the sacrifice as fools do, for they are ignorant and do wrong. Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven, and you are on earth, so let your words be few. For dreams result from much work and a fool’s voice from many words. Ecclesiastes 5:1-3 (HCSB)
Over many years I observed people from both the back of the sanctuary as well as eyeing them from the pulpit.
In spite of what most people who regularly attend church want to believe, many arrive each week carrying deeper, personal motivations rather than a desire to merely worship the Lord through joyous melodies and words. They sit dispersed among the regulars who, week in and week out, faithfully return each week to the same pew out of habit, a ritual of ownership etched in stone over the years.
Among those who attend regularly, there are those solely motivated because of the social value of attending church. They eagerly seek an exchange of the latest news and gossip before and after they dutifully bide their time through the worship hour.
Then there are some inspired to attend ladened by fears and regret. They seek a soothing message to hopefully mollify some nagging guilt within them that they can’t seem to escape.
Of course, also sprinkled throughout the sanctuary pews are the inevitable attention seekers. The ones who could find their way to the altar blindfolded, and their voices as recognizable as their faces.
There is little doubt; church provides an interesting hodgepodge of people on any given Sunday. I often wonder what God thinks as he looks down upon our stained-glass sanctuaries while he dwells in the only true sanctuary?
Of course, those person(s) in the church who seek attention, hoisting their hands over their heads and voicing their enthusiasm whenever the preacher or worship leader cues the congregation, begs the question. Is God hard of hearing or only responsive to the most animated? Or, are those waving and shouting out only demonstrating how spiritual they want everyone else to believe they are?
Certainly, there are plenty of sincere, God-fearing people filling the pews too, but they’re surrounded by plenty of self-serving, self-focused folks each week. I reckon, in the end, God responds not because of our actions or attitudes on display but the condition of our heart.
For as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes reminds us: We all should be careful with our words when praising the God of creation. It is better to say nothing than offer empty, insincere promises and vows.
Sincerity and integrity identify a person’s genuine relationship with God, not animated enthusiasm and verbosity. In fact, God responds the loudest within a sincere, silent heart, found more often in the stillness of our daily quiet times with God.
Humility Builds a Sanctuary
The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are protected. A rich man’s wealth is his fortified city; in his imagination, it is like a high wall. Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but before honor comes humility. Proverbs 18:10-12
Whether at school, at work, the community, or in the church, there are people we meet every day who are in the wall building business. You might even be in that business. Our insecurities demand that we build walls to keep others out. But, why build barriers and walls that keep people out of our lives?
An insecure person constructs walls that isolate themselves from others so others may never know the truth about them. Erecting walls keeps others at a safe distance, so they really can never focus on the weaknesses of the person cowering behind the walls.
However, in reality, these walls are just an illusion meant only to keep the person on the inside from seeing clearly and that insecure person misses out on the benefits of developing genuine relationships. They would rather sever themselves from genuine friendships and the joy of loving one another as God had intended. Their pride justifies their insecurity because they exist solely in a relationship with their “self.” What a sad and lonely existence our pride can cause us to enter into when our fears are allowed to rule over us.
The humble have a high tower they can run into, and the walls of this tower are of God’s doing. This secure place is a refuge, a sanctuary, from the tough times in this life, but God never intends to keep you there. It is where a humble heart can find rest and restoration before confidently re-engaging life and its many awkward but rewarding relationships. It also is big enough for all to enter whenever there’s a need for God’s peace and mercy. This high tower also helps you to see more clearly your place and purpose in life. It helps you focus on what is most important, which is never yourself. It is a place where love resides, and all fear disappears. The only price for entry into this refuge is our self! We must come humbled to receive the security that God offers.
How about you? Are you like the one who builds walls to hide behind out of insecurity and pride of “self,” or do you know the way into God’s high tower refuge where security comes from humility? Which leads to genuine life?
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In my estimation: Sanctuary is found whenever and wherever God dwells and offers unadulterated peace and hope. Otherwise, a claim of sanctuary is merely man’s notion to soothe mankind’s guilt-ridden conscience.