Sanctuary: A Meditation on Home, Homelessness, and Belonging

A singular work of poetic prose exploring otherness and belonging—and what it means to be truly at home.

Sanctuary: A Meditation on Home, Homelessness, and Belonging examines the interface between inner and outer sanctuary, and the ways they affect one another.

“Sanctuary” is the home we can return to when our lives are under threat, where we can face what’s difficult to love, and have a place where we can truly say, “I am home”—and spiritual teachers often emphasize sanctuary’s inner dimensions, that “our true home” is within. “Homelessness,” in turn, can be viewed as a forced experience or one in which there is a spiritual void in being or feeling home.

Drawing from her life as a Zen Buddhist priest whose ancestors labored as slaves in Louisiana, Zenju Earthlyn Manuel explores the tension between oppression—based on race, religion, ability, class, orientation, gender, and other “ghosts of slavery”—and finding home within our own hearts. Through intimate personal stories and deep reflection, Manuel helps us see the moment when what has gone unacknowledged surfaces is “the time we have been practicing for,” the epiphany when we can investigate the true source what has been troubling us. This insightful book about home and homelessness, sanctuary and refuge offers inspiration, encouragement, and a clear-eyed view of cultivating a spiritual path in challenging times.

“Zenju Earthlyn Manuel’s Sanctuary offers us much-needed clarity and light in a time of increasing violence and confusion, daily assaults on our basic sense of belonging. Here is a generous feast of wise and compassionate insights into the deeper meanings of homelessness and home, identity and community, refuge and liberation. This is genuine and nourishing food for the challenging journeys ahead.” (Acharya Gaylon Ferguson, PhD Core Faculty Naropa University)

In an era of fearful uncertainty, this book calls us home just in time. As we face a worldwide inferno of record human displacement, extinction of species, war, injustice, and alienation from our true histories, Rev. Zenju offers a balm of wisdom and direct experience. Rather than preaching pat answers to complex problems, her balm fortifies, giving courage to face what’s here. No spiritual bypass necessary. Her personal stories — lyrical, warm, unflinching — remind us that a sense of non-belonging, rather than dooming us to perpetual victimhood, can throw open a gateway on the path of compassion. Through that compassion, connection, thoughtful awareness of personal and political context, and giving and receiving love “simply because [we] are alive,” we might find sanctuary, and a way home. – (Katie Loncke – Co-Director of Buddhist Peace Fellowship)

“These remarkable essays by Rev. Zenju Earthlyn Manuel make us aware, in important and different ways, of the intimate relationship between home and sanctuary, and the struggle between belonging and homelessness that paradoxically defines the conditions for many who in our contemporary world find themselves living under conditions of oppression, alienation and dehumanization.

A gifted storyteller, Rev. Zenju takes us directly into the struggle to nourish peace by engaging with the practice of establishing sanctuary as a spiritual and cultural project. Sanctuary forms at once an original look at how we might practice within the context of daily life the work of contemplative reflection, and a compelling portrayal of how that reflection can be skillfully wed to a powerful and loving engagement with our world as it is.   In the telling of this story, I was immediately moved to feel the allure of home in my life, but to recognize the work of sanctuary as refuge, as well as a space from which to remember what matters, and, in the authors words, “love what is difficult to love.”

By concentrating on this paradox, Rev. Zenju explores the spiritual potential of homelessness, reminding us, at a critical moment of ecological anxiety, political unrest and a renewed intensification of hate and misunderstanding, of the importance of embracing the deep abode of ancestry, while simultaneously seeing the world afresh.” (Doshin Nathan Woods, Ph.D)

“Zenju’s deep reflections on sanctuary leads us on a profound journey to the place where being home and homeless meet. Her profound reflections point to a spiritual freedom in the full tapestry of our personal and collective lives.” (Gil Fronsdal, primary teacher for the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California)

“A lyrical, richly insightful meditation pointing the way toward a true sense of home—sanctuary—in our own bodies, complex heritages and awakened hearts. Zenju Manuel’s gentle reflections provide deep solace to those living with actual homelessness and housing insecurity, while at the same time illuminating the displacement and longing for home that is present, by degrees, in each of us. An inspired guidepost for these times.” (Rhonda V. Magee)

“A lovely and timely contemplation. Zenju Earthlyn Manuel writes with a poetic voice of interbeing, gracefully dissolving relative and ultimate truth into each other, compassionately embodying that place where political, spiritual, and cultural realities intersect.”
(Ethan Nichtern, Author of The Road Home and One City)

“A profoundly poetic, deeply personal, and completely expansive treatise on the power of sanctuary to heal and transform our sense of disconnection from each other and our own selves.” (Larry Yang, author of Awakening Together)