"The Village Square"
-Near the Desert Retreat House-
Not far from our home there is a quaint little village built around a central "marketplace" - restaurants and coffee shops, hair salons and doctors' offices, farmers' markets and festivals, but no churches or temples or places of worship anywhere. As I wandered around town yesterday, I wondered why there were no churches in the village, and then it suddenly struck me that I was actually standing in a church- the village square is my local church.
Today is "Pentecost Sunday" on the Christian calendar - the day when the first disciples were all gathered together behind locked doors in the "upper room." Jesus had gone away and they were frightened and confused, unsure of what they would do now without "the master" to guide them. Suddenly they were filled with a sense of Abiding Holy Presence, a Spirit of energizing love flowed within them and among them, symbolized by "tongues of fire" that rested over the heads of each- a very beautiful, poetic story.
But this "upper room" story is only one part of the story of the real Pentecost event, because after these disciples were energized with the spirit of love, they became emboldened and their timidity was transformed into courage. They unlocked the closed doors in that upper room and "rushed" out into the marketplace of everyday life. They rushed out into the shops, the businesses and restaurants. They rushed out into the farmers' markets and festivals of everyday life where they continued the work first begun by Jesus- building a better world, a more just and compassionate society where the dignity of every human being is honored.
The marketplace and not the upper room is the primary focus of the Pentecost story and the real icon of what the church is all about.
That's why I say that the village square in town is my local church- it's the place where people of every stripe, folks from many walks of life gather together for the ordinary living of everyday life, and it's here in the midst of all this everyday life where I am called to continue the work of the Christ and follow in his way.
I am very fond of something the Dalai Lama once said:
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion
If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
He doesn't say go to church or sit in a temple or situate yourself on a mat and meditate and pray. Instead he says, if you want to find that deeper peace of the spiritual journey, go out into the everyday world of everyday life and "practice compassion." It seems to me that any spiritual path that stays inside locked behind closed doors always leads to a dead end.
Today Christian churches throughout the world will all be decked out for a grand festival- banners and red vestments, elaborate rituals, hymns and prayers. They will be celebrating what went on behind those locked doors on the first Pentecost, hailing the event as a model of the church, professing that coming to church follows in the tradition of those first disciples gathered together in that "upper room."
I sometimes wonder what it might be like if, on this day all the Christian churches throughout the world would celebrate Pentecost by opening their closed doors, and instead of remaining inside, all the faithful believers would rush out into the marketplaces of their villages, towns, and cities - devoting the day to caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, embracing the lonely, giving hope to the helpless, practicing compassion?
Who knows, maybe if Pentecost Sunday was actually celebrated in this way, religious belief that is becoming more and more abandoned nowadays might be taken a bit more seriously.
I plan on celebrating Pentecost at our local church today. I'm off to the coffee shop in the village square.