The other day the blog, “Real People, Real Lives, Real Spirituality,” asked where I feel most “spiritually connected.” (You can find the interview and others of ordinary people trying to make sense of life at the intersection with God here: http://blog.spiritualbookclub.com/). I gave an answer that I realize was incomplete.
Because the truth is I feel most spiritually connected these days at my local coffee shop, Joe’s. The intoxicating aroma of coffee beans. The warm, reassuring tones of conversation and laughter. The ceiling fresco that, in the gilded, powdery blue style of a Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, records what really happened in Genesis- when God created coffee, saw that it was good and bequeathed it to Adam and Eve. There is something truly life-giving in the universal welcome and acceptance of a place where people come together around something as simple as a cup of joe: it signifies an eclectic communion of sorts in which no one is a stranger.
And maybe it is not a coincidence that I do most of my writing at Joe’s. The mantra, “know thy audience,” applies here: if my book, Grace Sticks: The Bumper Sticker Gospel for Restless Souls, is primarily for those who would describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” Joe’s is where these “spiritual but not religious” come to life, embodied as real people with real faces and real stories. Joe’s is their local watering hole, and not unlike the Samaritan woman at the well, they come, often regularly, to fill up their cups and be refreshed.
And much like Jesus came to the woman at the well, I believe Jesus meets us there, too.
Because this little coffee shop has become for so many of us a kind of “holy” or “set apart” space. A safe place in which to come as you are, and in the act of being known, to find acceptance and belonging; a sacred outlet for sharing questions about life and God without hiding, fear of judgment, or judgment itself. Entering Joe’s is a bit like inhabiting another world in which time bends and “grace,” as God’s unconditional acceptance, really happens.
It is rare to find this kind of free, grace-filled encounter in the church. (When it does happen, I like to celebrate it.) At Joe’s, it happens all the time. In fact, I suspect this kind of spiritual community happens at coffee shops all over the world.
This past Sunday in church someone shared about a time when he had hit rock bottom and his family and work life were in shambles. He said he showed up one day at a coffee shop to buy a cup of joe only to reach for his wallet and discover it was not in his pocket. In that moment, the barrista registered his despair. She told him not to worry about it- that the coffee was on the house. The man said it was in that simple exchange that he palpably sensed God’s presence.
These days when I’ve gone for days without a stop in at Joe’s, the folks behind the counter will notice. They’ll ask about me- how I’m doing, how the writing is coming, how the kids are. Usually they remember my name. If they forget it, they call me “Beautiful.”
The really great thing is that they do this sort of thing for everybody.
Yes, grace and the Good News that God loves us can be as simple as a cup of coffee and a room full of people sharing it with one another.