For me, they are my preferred "third places:" the space apart from home or work where I can hang out, unwind, create, observe, and relax.
They are also places where I experience an incredible cross section of humanity: young and old, multiple ethnicities and economic backgrounds, and so on.
And not only that, but they serve as one of a thousand places where one may experience God's presence outside of specially designated "holy places" like a church or retreat center. That's why they serve as my primary example of such a place in Coffeehouse Contemplative.
On one particular morning at my favorite coffeehouse, I made it a point to keep track of what and who I saw that day. In the span of a few hours, this included:
- a music teacher talking with a friend about some of the ups and downs of her job, including special speaking opportunities
- a child with his father in line repeatedly saying "hi Dad" and singing random songs
- a guy in blue scrubs probably on his way to work
- two college girls meeting
- a little boy carrying his own to-go coffee cup, sipping from it as he walked
- friends apparently surprised to see each other and sharing a hug
- a huge group of young moms who came in together
Of course, there are many community spaces that one may see such things. For some people it's their church. For others it's the local coffeehouse. And for others it's the area McDonald's, the corner diner, a popular park, or the YMCA lounge.
The point is that such places can remind us of a world larger than our home and work lives, filled with people we may not interact with in either of those places.
Author Austin Kleon shares a story about how in Texas in the 1960s, there was no better hangout spot for entire communities than the local Dairy Queen:
Certainly if there were places in west Texas where stories might sometimes be told, those places would be the local Dairy Queens: clean, well-lighted places open commonly from 6 A.M. until ten at night. These Dairy Queens combined the functions of tavern, café, and general store; they were simple local roadhouses where both rambling men and stay-at-homes could meet. To them would come men of all crafts and women of all dispositions. The oilmen would be there at six in the morning; the courthouse crowd would show up about ten; cowboys would stop for lunch or a midafternoon respite; roughnecks would jump out of their trucks or pickups to snatch a cheeseburger as their schedules allowed; and the women of the villages might appear at any time, often merely to sit and mingle for a few minutes; they might smoke, sip, touch themselves up, have a cup of coffee or a glass of iced tea, sample the gossip of the moment, and leave. Regular attendance was necessary if one hoped to hear the freshest gossip, which soon went stale. Most local scandals were flogged to death within a day or two; only the steamiest goings-on could hold the community’s attention for as long as a week.I can relate to this story very well. In the town where I went to high school (Ohio, not Texas), one of the most popular spots...was the Dairy Queen.
We may be able to name places where we experience community, "third places" where we can gather, commiserate, and share our lives with others. People of faith may be able to name how they experience the divine in such places as well, even without conducting a Bible study or some other Official Spiritual Activity there. And if you've never considered how the latter is so, it may be worthwhile to make a list the next time you're there.