Ways of Seeing, Melissa O’Brien: Chapel belongs in Facebook village

Recently I read an article about Facebook’s plans to build a village. Apparently it will include a hotel, over a thousand apartments, a grocery store, the usual things one might find in a small town. The idea is to solve some of the housing and transportation problems in the Silicon Valley area.
My first thought when I read the piece was “I sure wish they would include a chapel in their design.”
I sure wish they would recognize that humans today face more than just housing and transportation crises. That humans are in need of spiritual care, not just on Sunday morning, but on any given day and for many reasons.
We are, in this country, loathe to mix faith into our everyday living, and yet so many are seeking a deeper connection, a broader sense of meaning in their lives. I have spoken with three friends this past week, all men in their early 50s who are completely re-evaluating their lives in the hopes of discovering a path forward of greater purpose. They are all looking for ways to contribute to this world in a more meaningful way. They are all seeking to fill some kind of void within themselves and they are looking to the world’s needs to see what that might be.
Those are spiritual questions, the ones these men are asking themselves.
One of the things I’ve noticed in the work I have done as a hospice chaplain is that once the bell of death has tolled and a person has been told … you are going to die, much of life’s confusion dissipates and the things that are important become very clear. Often, faced with end-of-life, a person is asked to describe how they would spend their “best day,” and it’s not hard to discern, with death just around the corner.
We cannot all drop out of life in pursuit of the perfect day, nor should we, but we can integrate that thinking into our living days. Answering that question informs us about what really matters. And understanding what really matters gives us insight into why we are here.
And when we meet face-to-face with why we are here, life truly hums. The less disconnection there is between our soul’s purpose and the work we do in the world, the greater our sense of well-being.
The Facebook village should have chapel. A place of respite, a place to sit quietly. A place to talk to someone who might be well-versed in spiritual discernment. Airports should, too. Schools might do well to include a small place of spiritual refuge in their buildings. After all, most days in school begin with the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance — “One nation, under God …” is what our kids say each morning.
If I had my way, there would be chapels everywhere.
One of the things I love about Vermont is that very often when you enter a town the first thing you see is a church spire, reaching up to the sky, above all of the other buildings. I love how spires seem to be seeking open air, a higher perch. I love that at some point in time someone or several someones thought that to be an important part of the fabric of a community.
It doesn’t really matter whether we believe in God or not, whether we think we have a soul or not. Everyone needs a refuge from the weariness of this world, from the chaos of the life around us. A soul needs a rest, needs loving support. Some seek it in church on Sundays, but I think we would do well as a society to re-think that. At a time when so many are searching for something more, when the technological intrusion in our lives seems out of control, and when we are becoming increasingly disconnected from the things that enrich our humanity — community, the dirt under our feet, the eyes of our loved ones, the needs of the stranger — we need our places of refuge more than ever.
I hope that Facebook takes my suggestion that they build a chapel in their new village; I wrote to them to tell them as much. I imagine it as I see all the chapels I dream of: a simple space, uncluttered and unadorned, quiet, filled with light and natural materials. A place where a person can turn off everything on the outside and turn back to all that is good and real on the inside.
Melissa O’Brien is the pastor of the Pawlet Community Church. She is a student at the Fordham School of Religion and Religious Education and in the summer she sells bouquets of flowers she grows in her gardens as Harriet Honeybee. She keeps a blog of her thoughts and experiences at melissaannobrien.com and hopes one day that someone will come up with a better word than “blog.”

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