I sit sipping cocoa in a Seattle coffee shop and let the world slow down. It is a busy shop but not frantic, filled with locals in their regular weekend rhythms, not a selfie-seeking tourist in sight. I only know to be there because they called my daughter in for work, so I am an interloper with a free pass for the morning. I am honored.
It is cold outside. I could be exploring but am dizzy from the past few months of life and revel in the opportunity to sit still in the warmth of someone else’s community with an interesting book and a hot chocolate. I read for hours and suspect I could go all day.
I sit alone. And not. There are other solo customers, most with laptops, and one with an old-fashioned page-turning book like me. Parents occasionally bring their toddlers in and gather in the play area in the back. A few couples are there for conversation. It is a good crew, and I am proud of us. They are mine if only for the morning.
The hours float by like an ever-present Seattle rain cloud, and the time comes for me to step back on the moving sidewalk of life. I don’t mind. I have work to do. But I cherish this extraordinary morning.
I like many things about the fast-paced life. It is the life for me. But I love how from time to time the adventurous pace leads me to quiet places like this lovely Seattle coffee shop.
“Let the site tell you its secrets.” — Christopher Alexander
I joke that my propensity to arrive early for absolutely everything is a sickness, but in reality it is a treasured quality since it reminds me of mom and dad. Being early is my heritage. With age, it seems that I am less impressed with my unique qualities and particularly value those characteristics that connect me to a larger story.
I arrive very early for work on Sunday mornings to prepare for our church’s collective time together, a couple of hours early in fact—and love it. We decided to meet in stunning Stauffer Chapel this summer thanks to a brilliant suggestion from my friend, Sara, and the setting has made the early morning solitude particularly delightful.
I like the strange sensation of opening the door to discover that no one else is there and being the first to step inside. I like turning on the lights and straightening the hymnals and removing the leftover trash from the pew racks. I like arranging the podium and communion table just right and reviewing the sermon, imagining the congregation at breakfast preparing to join with me and with others. I like propping open the doors and hearing the gurgling fountain outside and then returning to the deafening quiet inside and the intense feeling of anticipation. I like to notice the sun pierce through the massive stained glass spraying psychedelic graffiti all over the quiet sanctuary.
Famed architect, Christopher Alexander, argued that users of a space know more about their needs than the architect and wrote, “Let the site tell you its secrets.” In my sacred Sunday solitude, I don’t seem to be able to articulate my needs, but it sure seems that the space has secrets to tell. I listen each week and can almost hear them. Maybe if I listen long enough?
In reality, I’m not sure that sacred spaces have actual secrets to tell. But maybe the wonder that is found in showing up early to listen is secret enough.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged architect, christopher alexander, church, early, listen, pepperdine, quiet, sacred, secrets, silence, solitude, space, stauffer chapel