by Carla Pineda
Luke 17:21 tells us that the kingdom of God is among us – not here it is or there it is. Romans 14:17 says “it is in the midst of us.” The Kingdom of God is not something that can be seen, at least with the eyes. It is hard to describe in words. But I know it is real and I experience it daily.
For me, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of my workplace, ¡Viva! Bookstore. You may ask, “How can the Kingdom of God be in a bookstore?” Stores of any kind are places where we go to make a transaction, a stopping off place to purchase something we need or want. We go in, we purchase what we went in for, pay for it and are on our way. Yes, there likely will be the customary exchanges of “How can I help you?” to “Thank you for shopping with us” and “Have a nice day.” Those are expected. That is the way things should be done in a retail establishment. They are important. But this is not what I am talking about.
I am thinking about the times when someone steps through the front door of ¡Viva! and asks, “What is this place?” “I’ve seen your sign before but I just had to stop today.” “How long have you been here?” “This place feels very special.” “This is not just a bookstore, is it?”
Or, when a regular customer comes in, finds that special chair or climbs the stairs to “the Upper Room” and loses herself in peace and quiet even when the noise of regular business is going on at the foot of the stairs. I am talking about the times when a customer comes in looking for something and ends up sharing deeply and personally with a staff person about what is going in his life or the life of his family. Or when someone tells us that !Viva! was where a healing began.
¡Viva! is a kind of a way station, a stopping off spot, a place for refreshment and renewal. It is a little slice of heaven on earth. It is a place where the sacredness of community, of relationship, of being present for a fellow human being can be and is often lived out.
This way station, this little slice of heaven on earth, must be nurtured and tended. Of course, there are the times when the customer who is a challenge comes in, when no matter what I say or do, it’s not what they want to hear, or when I cannot provide what they need or want. There are the times when a customer who needs special time or attention shows up, and the last thing I have is the time or energy to meet those needs. It is at these times that I try to remember I am called to find – and deliver – “the peace which passes all understanding,” to hold the sacred space open for God to show me a way to be more than just the person behind the counter, more than just a bookseller. It is working from the heart, answering a call. It is doing more than just a job. The kingdom of God is a place among us, a space in the midst of us where sustenance for the journey is provided. I do not provide the sustenance – God does. At this way station I am just the instrument. When I can remember this, things go easier than when I want to be the one in charge, when I want to be done with the interchange so I can move on.
In this “hurry and get it done, going through the motions” culture that we live in, with things like the “to do” list to check off and too few hours in the day, way stations are often few and far between. Yet, I wonder if there aren’t more of them than we are aware of – right under our feet, in front of our faces.
About the author: Carla Pineda is a writer and retreat leader. She is a member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio TX. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.