The Nest: A Compelling Image of the Sanctuary

Of the many exciting events we are looking forward to in March, one is the Nesting Sunday, a variant way of looking at the Mothering Sunday, which falls on the fourth of Lent.

Psalm 84 is attributed to the Korahittes and is a splendid imagery of what it means to be in the House of the Lord.

In Psalm 84:3 we read

Even the sparrow finds a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
    my King and my God.

I am reminded of the story of the “Die Ulmer Spitze”- The Pinnacle of Ulm. The tower of the Cathedral of Ulm is one of the most spectacular Gothic structures of Germany with a height of 525 feet. The Freiburg Munster tower is only 380 feet and we could imagine the splendour. As the Ulm Cathedral was being built a wagon that brought a beam of wood could not pass through the city gate as it was laid sideways. They thought of creative ways to get it in including breaking down the city wall, but could not, until one of them noted a sparrow manoeuvring a long twig through a small space to make its nest. This sparked an idea to move the long beam in and it worked and when the work was completed they acknowledged the idea from the sparrow with a little imagery of the sparrow still placed there.

What was the sparrow doing in the Cathedral that was being built? When I first asked this question the answer was simple- It had already realised that the sanctuary was the best place to find its nest and to bring up its young ones.

The question whether the sacred spaces around the sanctuaries were indeed safe spaces for mothers, children, the young ones and the vulnerable did rock the history of the church at several points in time. All efforts are continually being made to make it as safe as possible and to ensure justice to all who had experiences on the contrary. Despite that we continue to discuss the beauty of the sanctuary.

The Pandemic redefined for several people the understanding of the sanctuary. It ceased to be just a place where the ordinary people went to meet with God and took the form of a space where the ordinary people were confined in the lock downs where God went down to meet them in their spaces of vulnerability. The little rooms in ordinary homes became the sanctuary wherein they met with the divine.

It is in this context a reflection on what did the Sanctuary mean to be Psalmist becomes worth looking at.

The Nest: as a place where the soul longs to be

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.

The longing of the soul to be where it finds rest and solace is something we should be closely watching. Even in a context where the scientific age is not able to define the soul the inner urge to meet with the maker is true and real and is experienced by several people even today. We see some people who would not miss being at church if it would be humanly possible for them to come. That reflects this longing.

It is the place where the heart and the flesh sing for joy to the living God. A dynamic relationship with an active God is what makes life meaningful for several among us.

Even if we do not do much to make the churches places that people long to be WE MUST make sure that our words or actions SHOULD NOT deter people from coming to church. Even when we cannot be welcoming and inviting (which we must be) we should not be, by our behaviour distancing people from the sanctuary.

We come to meet with the Divine and we must also be cautious the ‘people’ should not be the reason why we seek alternatives.

Sanctuaries should be spaces where our soul rejoices within us in the presence of the Divine.

The Nest: as a Place of Happiness

Happy are those who live in your house,
    ever singing your praise.

The experience of the sanctuary is not a once in a week or once in a blue moon experience. It is a living relationship ever singing the praise of God. Questions on if the sanctuary is a physical space or a virtual space is being discussed today. It is in fact both and beyond.

The Communion of people who are in Communion with God is not always limited to the human understanding of carved out or demarcated spaces.

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

The Psalmist affirms that in moments of weakness when happiness can possibly be drained the Lord becomes the strength.

When we lose a sense of direction in life the presence of God fills our hearts with a new direction which is influenced by the highways to Zion. The destination becomes beyond what we could imagine and that makes the journey exciting.

As they go through the valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
    the early rain also covers it with pools.

Yes in this journey it is quite natural that we walk valleys of tears. But God is able to make them into places of springs and bless them with the new rains.

They go from strength to strength;
    the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

In moments of weakness the sanctuary affirms the much awaited vision of the Theophany that cannot be far away- the day when the God talk ceases to be theory and becomes a first-hand experience- face to face.

The happiness in the presence of God is however inexplicable.

The Nest: as a Place of Prayer

Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
    give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God;
    look on the face of your anointed.

The beauty of the Presence of God is that we could approach the space of Grace anytime with our supplications and prayer. Though the Lord is the God of hosts God is also one who cares for Each in the Hosts Equally.

The Lord gives ear and prayer happens with the conviction that the Lord is our Shield whatever be the arrows in life we face and that the Lord will look on the face of the anointed.

The word Shield is very important here. When we bring before the throne of Grace the pain and agony of the world, when we intercede for the migrant and the refugee, when we pour out our frustration and pain at war and injustice, when we voice forth our concern for the future in contexts of present day exploitation, when we are worried about bad governance, when we think the earth is ripping open beneath us, it is always good to be assured of a Shield and a Tower of Strengthen to whom we could run to.
That is what make the Psalmist affirm with confidence

For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    he bestows favour and honour.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
    from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
    happy is everyone who trusts in you.

The Nest: A Place for the Young

When we think of the need today and of the priorities in mission and ministry the focal point has to be the fact that in the sanctuary

the swallow should find a nest for herself,
    where she may lay her young, at your altars.

Nesting Sunday therefore compels us to ask a few important questions

Would we not rejoice if those who were part of the nest once and did fly away for various reasons would chose to be back for one service and affirm their love and solidarity with us? It would demand forgiveness from the part of some, humility from us and a large-heartedness from everyone.

Should we not introspect if we are able to keep the nest -for which each of us are responsible- in one way or other a welcoming and safe space, where the soul of people would long to be and when there would rejoice.

What must we be doing to ensure that the sparrows that are seeking a nest would find us a comfortable space where they could trust their young ones to be nurtured?

How do we make the nest relevant to what is happening around us and those around us?

What creative actions must happen from our end to make sure that our young ones are properly attended to-even as they fly off around the nest?

Nesting Sunday is an opportunity and a challenge for us to grow in grace

Vinod Victor

March 1, 2023

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