Yesterday afternoon a guest asked me, in tentative English, if there is a church here at the William Penn House. I told her yes, we have worship here every morning from 7:30 to 8. She then asked me where it was and if it was open now. I was confused for a moment and then realized that she when she asked about a “church” she was wondering about a physical space. I explained that we met for worship in the very unassuming conference room that she had been store her luggage in all day. She too was confused for a moment, but then realized what I was trying to tell her.
In this misunderstanding I was, once again, reminded of the very real temptation to view a certain space as being more sacred, more full of God’s presence, than other spaces. But of course, we’re all good Quakers here and never make that mistake. We point to it with the language we use, not calling our buildings “churches” but rather “meeting houses,” not wanting to blur the line between the community that is body of Christ and some drywall and bricks. We often explain to non-Quakers that we think that all of life is sacred. No one day of the week, no one space, no one physical object is more blessed then the rest. God created everything and continues to be among us and in us, making everything hallowed. The physical space is irrelevant. Only our openness to the Spirit’s moving in us in a particular moment matters.
When in town, I often attend Sunday morning worship at Takoma Park Preparative Meeting, which holds worship in a dance studio. We all have to take our shoes off so as not to scuff or dirty the floor and we sit in medal folding chairs. There’s only a small window high on the wall and the rest of the lighting is florescent bulbs. This is nothing about the space the cries, “Communion with the Creator of the Universe going on here!” But God is there making the space sacred, when we are attentive enough to notice and respond.
But do I really live my life this way? Certainly I enter the National Cathedral here in Washington with more reverence and awe than, say, I enter my bathroom, for example. The cathedral is large and grand. It has an altar, stain glass and stone. My bathroom is small and normal. It has an old tub, linoleum and a leaky skylight. (Part of difference in attitude might also have to do with how often one space gets cleaned versus the other too.) The beauty of the National Cathedral makes me feel like I am closer to God there than my bathroom; even though I claim to know God that exists and can make himself known in both spaces equally.
If I was to live my life really in the truth that God has made all and is present always, what would it look like? Would I be more centered and aware? Would I notice God’s working in the suburban sprawl as much as in a forest? Would I be closer to living my life as one continuous act of worship? I am not making an argument that everything is beautiful- certainly a Wendy’s parking lot is less beautiful then Sequoia National Forest. But God is there in both those spaces. Miracles and epiphanies can happen in both those places. God calls us to be part of his work in the world in both places. The parking lot and the forest, the cathedral and the conference room are all part of the sacred space that makes up our lives.