Recently, I was in Atlantic City, NJ, staying at a famous hotel/casino. The place was rife with prayerful experiences! Who knew?
As a rule, I’m not a fan of gambling meccas. I don’t know how to gamble and so, no, my transcendent experiences in AC were not a result of hitting a jackpot and winning a lot (or even a little) money.
I was there presenting a workshop on how and why mental health clinicians can integrate spirituality into their practices, so my first layer of transcendence was the ability to carve out an oasis of kindred spirits. And if that wasn’t enough, I was travelling with a childhood friend with whom I have a long and rich history. When I am lucky enough to be in an environment like this, I often think of an article I read once by Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who speaks about friendship as a basic tenant of Christianity, as modeled by Jesus himself.
My friend and I share most interests but she is usually quite frustrated by my interest in spirituality and prayer, and often claims not to know what I am referring to when I begin to explain myself or gently challenge her.
But over and over again during this weekend, in elevators, and conference rooms, with servers in restaurants, conference attendees and seniors in the casinos, we were both experiencing kindness and humor and shared experiences with those folks, kindred spirits, and strangers alike. And I was able to say to her, “See, that was a spiritual experience”!
In Wehner’s article, he quotes his pastor, the Rev. James Forsyth of McLean Presbyterian Church in Virginia, as saying that when we are in a friendship, we are “participating in something divine.” I think my friend feels this in her friendships and I believe she was experiencing it in those ordinary moments in the casino.
I do know beyond a doubt that in the tiny moments of friendship that spring up every day between us and others who often masquerade as strangers, a connection is made that elevates us and helps us transcend the ordinary.
So, should it be such a surprise that a place like Atlantic City, teeming with human beings of every stripe, could offer a path straight to the Divine? If you think this is far-fetched, try it. Please.