Sanctuary: the Discovery of Wonder

Published by Otago University Press, New Zealand (May 2015)
ISBN-10: 1877578967
ISBN-13: 978-1877578960

Julie Leibrich’s book, ‘ A Gift of Stories’, inspired the Devon anthology of recovery stories, ‘Beyond The Storms, Reflections on Personal Recovery in Devon’.

In ‘A Gift of Stories,’ Julie gathered and edited recovery stories from people experiencing mental health issues and included her own. She also gave us permission to host her chapter on ‘Gathering Stories’ here, to enable others, who are helping to share stories of recovery, to gain some practical ideas.

In this new book, Julie shares her life experiences to highlight our individual searches for sanctuary and our need to gain safe spaces to be at peace with ourselves. it is a wonderful book that crosses genres.

A Contemplation of Sanctuary –

A Journey toward  Being РValuing Love and Connection

This is a beautiful, poetic book about seeking connection to our authentic selves. It is a book written from the heart and mind, guided by reason. It is searching for our souls rather than a book of soul searching. It points us in two directions through layers of experience, firstly to explore our interior landscapes; our journeys to deeper awareness, to our own place of safety. At the same time it links us to connection in our daily actions. We are taken into our unique, dark, deep, meditative states, as well as being reminded to realign with the vast cosmos, and to the values and needs that we all share. This book nourishes us and encourages us to notice, to live and to shine.

This is a book of compassion. There are many resonances. It touches and moves me with its language and insight. I love how visually descriptive it is. It feels balanced and right. Julie Leibrich puts us in touch with many fascinating minds and with the inner light that is our essence. She enlivens our capacity to belong to ourselves as well as to the people and the environment in which we breathe. Sanctuary is a book offering such energy and hope.

This book has clear sections; there are chapters that illuminate sanctuary, sanctuary of place, of mind, body, spirit and time, and another chapter, that values the love of people. Additional chapters explore protecting sanctuary and the ambiguities that lie within our search. In seeking sanctuary, Julie shows how we can alter our perspectives and approaches to better help us connect to space, solitude, silence and simplicity, and to value slowness and stillness. She finally examines the wonderment of Sanctuary, the mystery, meaning and miracle that sanctuary can bring and there is also a touching tale of a wedding ring. The section ends with a chapter, ‘Full Circle’. Here, there is a final contemplation of the serendipity that makes up our lives. The certainty of Sanctuary within is appreciated. “It may be ephemeral, elusive, intangible and ineffable, but it is also permanent, identifiable, palpable and expressive”.. and it exists “within my daily life”. Lastly there is a full appendix recording the many descriptions of Sanctuary that people sent to Julie. This of itself is a rich, insightful and beautiful inclusion.

Everday Life and Experience

‘Sanctuary’, encourages us to reflect on our everyday life spaces and experiences and helps shine a light on our spiritual selves and the tentative, nebulous nature of sanctuary. It notes fleeting spaces where our inner being feels safe. Julie describes her search, “to find a place of retreat, a place where I felt completely safe and sacred and a place where I could take the time to find the qualities of safety and sacredness within me.”

By drawing on Julie’s own life story, the book has a courageous honesty, exploring the dark as well as the light. There are inclusions from great writers and thinkers past and present, with many observations on inner peace and sanctuary. These observations help us identify those experiences which have made our lives meaningful, have made us who we are, by taking us on a journey toward the unique inner being that we become when reaching a transient peace with the world.

This is a beautifully presented book, which speaks to us, like a deep conversation with the author and artist. The front cover design is a coloured circle of light and life, with many identified jigsaw pieces creating the whole. Amongst these is one white unnamed shape, vaguely reminiscent of a dove. Is this the light of sanctuary, of safety, of spiritual peace? Whatever the intention, the cover design conveys the multicoloured woven tapestries that make up all of our lives.

The Culture of New Zealand

Coming to this book from an educational/artistic perspective, it seems no coincidence that this book was written in New Zealand. I feel that Julie Leibrich has imbibed the openness and inclusivity of New Zealand culture, while creating this rich, multilayered and illuminating book. It is reminiscent of the Maori phrase, ‘Te Wh?riki’- ‘ a woven rug for all to stand on’ . In 1996, New Zealand early childhood educators developed a new bi-cultural early childhood curriculum called ‘Te Wh?riki’ with five main strands within a framework – Mana Atua – Wellbeing; Mana Whenua – Belonging; Mana Tangata – Contribution, Mana Reo – Communication; Mana Aoturoa – Exploration. This ‘Te Wh?riki’ is a powerful metaphor, viewing learning as a ‘spider web’ or a woven tapestry. It emphasises learning for young children as a tapestry of different perspectives, with increasing complexity and richness rather than the more typical educational structure of a ladder of accumulated skills and knowledge. I’m delighted that Julie Leibrich has placed value on such New Zealand themes, which at different times are mirrored within this work; wellbeing, belonging, contribution, communication and exploration.

Every page carries messages for reflection that we can test against our own experience and contemplate, to learn more about ourselves and our search for sanctuary and spiritual peace. This book offers companionship along a journey of new understanding. It is liberally sprinkled with beautifully circular illustrations of the arts, science and beauty of the sanctuary within our worlds.

Sanctuary is recognised as something of an ambiguous concept, a chimera, a shadowy, myth- like aspect, something insubstantial, reaching out to our world of spirit. In this book we learn that we can reach sanctuary, sometimes when we’re not seeking it, by increasing our self awareness, being able to be still within the moment and by being true to ourselves. At other times we have to challenge the contradictions within ourselves.

A Decade of Insights and Observations

Julie Leibrich has given us a decade of her insights and observations in exploring sanctuary. She shares aspects of her own life challenges and the turning points and significant moments. They are reminders to us all that at times of crisis, we learn more about ourselves. We search out what really matters to us at the deepest level of our humanity.

The book carries brief and insightful observations from Julie’s journals. “I have been a bystander all of my life not a belonger”. For those of us, who for whatever reason feel ourselves to be ‘outsiders’, this book has a special resonance. It allows us to belong. despite our unruly thoughts. To know ourselves and live well we need to have explored our inner worlds and found the places and experiences that bring us peace. Julie Leibrich is not afraid of contradictions. She allows opposites to co-exist in our understanding of sanctuary. Sanctuary is explored through appreciation of nature, the sea, in our recurring dreams of home and childhood, through Julie Leibrich’s talents as a wordsmith and through the words and thoughts of others. Yet, there is also recognition that in being grounded within ourselves we can become more at one with our own safety and sanctuary. She says, “I always thought, the real reason I go on retreat is to find out what I am retreating from, within myself.”

Along with the beautiful images, there is touching exquisite poetry printed on pages of a subtly different hue. There are five love poems, including “The quietness of Love” and “Tapestries”, which are so beautiful they can make you weep.

“Sanctuary: the discovery of wonder” will charm, inform, challenge and inspire. We can journey within ourselves to calm, safe spaces, where we can better come to an understanding of life’s challenges, the pain and joy of existence and the elusiveness of self awareness. We are inspired to notice, to find or make our own sanctuary. We are offered occasions to be gathered together in this or that unique moment of silence, still and appreciative. We are given courage to let go of struggle and to be who we truly are. By letting go and allowing ourselves into our inner worlds, we can embrace courage and wellbeing. We can dip in or dwell within these pages, to better appreciate the meaning of our richly textured lives. In the stillness of sanctuary we can better know ourselves and listen to the whisperings of life, love and eternity.

Linden Lynn
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