"Gathering in the Desert"
-a street festival in the town square-
The nearby town square of La Quinta (where we live) is a pretty busy place, especially on weekends. There is always some sort of public event to bring people together. Yesterday featured a "Health and Wellness Fair" as well as an "Art Festival." Today, the weekly Sunday Farmer's Market will take center-stage - always held outdoors on the streets of the village market-place, under towering palm trees, the majestic desert mountains looking on.
Yesterday as I walked among the crowd of people browsing the exhibited art, listening to the music of a street band, watching the children play on the "green" in the center of town, I became very aware of the kind of energy that is only released when folks gather together- an energy that doesn't happen when you are alone.
This morning as I begin my day, I am thinking about all the people from all over the world who will be attending "church" on this Sunday morning. Actually to say that people "go to" church or "attend" a church totally misses the meaning of what "church" is.
The Greek word for "church," found in the Christian scriptures, is more a verb than a noun. It is best translated as "gathering together." The story of the origins of "church" is found in the story of Pentecost, when the disciples of Jesus "gathered together" in one place, and in their gathering, the energy of the Holy Spirit emerged among them, filling them with love and power.
When I was younger I was taught that you went to church to worship God, to attend a service - maybe ask God for favors. I gradually came to understand that the church is not a building you go to, and the purpose of going to church is not to "worship" God. People go to church so that, like those first disciples of Jesus, they can be together in one place - and in the "gathering," the energy of Holy Presence emerges.
This practice of "gathering together" is obviously not just something Christians do. In one way or another, all people of all religious traditions "gather together" with one another. Even atheists, agnostics and humanists "gather together" (as evidenced in the newly emerging humanist "churches" that are popping up all over the country).
In "gathering together," an energy is released - human beings experience something bigger than the individual "self" -something that is transcendent.
As I walked among the crowds at yesterday's street festival and sensed the energy emerging in the crowd, connecting us all together, I realized that on the streets of the village square all of us were in fact "gathering together in one place," and a holy energy was emerging in it all. It was a spiritual experience for me. In a very real sense it was "church."
I don't always go to any particular church on a given Sunday, but every Sunday I participate in "church." In fact every day I participate in "church" as I practice a very intentional spiritual discipline: "The discipline of being together with others in one place."
I am quiet, mindful, alone when meditating in my garden, walking on the trails, but then I also make it a point to be together with others. I go to the many weekly public events in the village square or sit and read, attend classes at the local library and civic center. I sit at a sidewalk table at a local coffee house surrounded by others gathered together- watching the crowds of so many different types of people as they stroll by, and I am in "church."
Today it's the Farmer's Market.