31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
August 13, 2017
Deuteronomy 10:12-13, 11:18-21
1 Corinthians 6:19
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
A few weeks ago, our family spent a long weekend in North Conway, New Hampshire, which some of you may know is the home of Storyland.
Storyland is a small family friendly amusement park, much like Lake Compounce here in Bristol. However where Lake Compounce has added faster roller coasters and spinier rides over the years, Storyland has stayed true to its roots of being a place where younger children and their families can enjoy age appropriate rides and shows.
So it was perfect with our four year old son. We traveled to Cinderella’s castle in a pumpkin (diesel powered) coach. We visited the three little pigs and their houses. There was even the old woman’s shoe, although she and her many children were out at the time.
Storyland was everything I expected for an amusement park geared to younger children: antique cars they could drive, a flume ride, a mellow roller coaster, 2 different tea cup rides. But what I did not expect was a chapel.
Yes, a chapel, right in the center of Storyland.
You might expect to see a chapel in a hospital or airport, but an amusement park? It’s not your typical place to stop for prayer and meditation.
But it was a real chapel. Located next to Heidi’s Grandfather’s house, this chapel was modeled after the wayside chapels scattered throughout the rural mountains in Europe. Those wayside chapels were “not used for church services but merely as a place for the weary traveler to pause and rest as he passes by.”
Storyland’s wayside chapel was created to enhance the story of Heidi in the park, however the sign at its entrance said, “Let each person bring their own religious beliefs with them as they enter this Wayside Chapel. We hope its quiet serenity will refresh you as you travel in this busy world.”
I couldn’t resist the invitation. I stopped in for a moment of prayer; I stepped inside for some of that much needed quiet serenity; I paused for some intentional time with God.
*In this journey of life, in the midst of our busyness, even when our busyness is a day of vacation at an amusement park, it a blessing to find a wayside chapel, a place to pause and intentionally be with God.*
There are many times when I wish there were a wayside chapel along the road of life – or the highway of life, as it too often feels. A place where I could just take the off ramp for a few moments, and be still, centered, and know God’s presence is with me.
This little chapel, this little wayside chapel, got me to thinking about another little chapel, the chapel in our hearts. Yes, there is a chapel in each one of us.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.” (1 Corinthians 6:19) Not just your heart, but your whole body is a temple, a church, a chapel- filled with the Holy Spirit.
God does not only dwell in churches like this one, in majestic landscapes, or in wayside chapels. God dwells in you. God’s spirit is in you. God is with you always.
You don’t need a special or a “holy” place to be with God, to experience God’s peace, to know God’s love. God is with you always. God is with us always – in the crazy fun of an amusement park, driving to work, in the grocery store, at birthday parties, in the hospital.
God is with us always. We are a temple, a chapel of the Holy Spirit. Anywhere we go, anything we are going through, God is right there with us.
But here is the irony, to have that little chapel in our hearts be a place where we know God’s love and peace anywhere and through any thing, we need to nurture the Spirit within us.
We need to acknowledge and claim God’s presence with us; And we need to nurture God’s presence within us by writing God’s word on our hearts and souls, by binding God’s word on our hands and fixing God’s word on our foreheads.
To be nurtured by the Holy Spirit, to be nurtured by the little chapel inside all of us, we need to nurture our relationship with God.
And that is really challenging in this journey of life. With all of the distractions, the billboards and traffic along the highway that our lives are, it is really easy to overlook the little wayside chapels, the opportunities we have for nurturing our spirit and relationship with God and Jesus Christ.
I confess that I struggle to see and take advantage of all of the unexpected ways God is reaching out to nurture my relationship with God and bring peace, calm, and love into my life. I’m a wife, a mother. I work full time as well as we have a home and yard to take care of. I’m busy, just like you, however nurturing our relationships with God is not just some nice thing to do, not just some healthy thing to do, it is essential if we are going to walk this Way of Jesus Christ. It is essential if we are truly going to answer God’s call and help build God’s kingdom of peace, justice, equality, and love here on earth.
So how do we nurture the little chapel in our hearts so that it can nurture us along this journey of life?
I offer you just a few spiritual practices that nurture me.
Every day, pause for one moment to acknowledge the beauty of God’s creation. The gorgeous sunset, the weed persistently pushing itself up through the crack in the concrete, the laughter of children around you, the abilities of your own hands and body. Upon waking, upon going to bed, brushing your teeth, pause for one moment to acknowledge the beauty of God’s creation.
Know God’s word. Know for yourself what God asks of you. Read scripture; read a devotional; read spiritual memes on Pinterest – there certainly are a lot of them. Gather with other Christians for worship, study, prayer.
Know God’s word. Put God’s words in your heart and soul, bind them on your hand, fix them on your forehead, teach them to your children, talk about them when you are home and away.
Know God’s word. Know for yourself what God’s still speaking voice sounds like. Know for yourself what God asks of you.
Coming from the Congregationalist tradition of the United Church of Christ, we are not always big on things and symbols, however if a pocket cross, a hand held cross, a strand of prayer beads, a prayer shawl helps you acknowledge God’s constant presence with you, helps you nurture your relationship with God and the chapel of the Holy Spirit within you, then find something. Find the right object that helps you connect with God and then put it in a place where you will see it daily, touch it daily.
On the Sunday closest to January 6th, Epiphany, Three Kings’ Day, our congregation chooses paper star gifts. We don’t peek at the words, but let the Spirit lead us to the right star for us that year. Star gifts are an object, a tool, to help us seek God’s guidance on this journey of life, a symbol to help us nurture God’s spirit within us.
The journey of life is challenging. It is joyous; it is sad; it is filled with uphill struggles and down hill thrills; it can be busy and boisterous, like a day at the amusement park – and always in the midst of it, in the center, in our hearts, is God’s Holy Spirit – nurturing us, guiding us, loving us, blessing us.
I pray that on this journey of life, the quiet serenity of God’s wayside chapels might nurture your heart, soul, mind, and body, that you might be a blessing that transforms the world with Christ’s love.