I once went to a coffee shop. It was calm and quiet and cozy. It smelled of Americano and chai and raspberry jam spread over hot spongy bread. The aroma would waft over the tables and when I smelled it I felt content. Content with everything. There were no problems. There was no homesickness. There were no papers or classes or knee scrapes or alarm clocks. It was a moment of retreat, an escape to a special place where everything is quiet and perfect and peaceful.
I asked the man behind the counter for a small cup of coffee. Twelve shekels, he said in unconfident English. I handed him the money, he asked for my name, I gave it. Oh and no cream, I said as he turned away.
I sat down, clutching my receipt and waiting for my Israeli coffee. The men scuttled behind the counter. I waited. I had only been drinking coffee since September, and now it was January and the last time I’d had coffee was at a Starbucks in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. That was roughly two weeks ago—approaching legitimate withdrawal period for me. When my coffee finally came, it was blanketed with a foamy white film on the surface of a bright tan liquid. I told the man who had made my coffee that I hadn’t wanted cream, and after some discussion the worker incredulously gave me an undefiled brew (apparently, black coffee isn’t kosher or something because he couldn’t believe I didn’t want cream or sugar).
I’m not addicted to coffee. I say this confidently. I can survive without the taste sometimes—the occasional bad brew, a few bitter sips as it gets cold and turns from a deep, rich black to a tan ringlet around the white bottom of the cup. That I can live without. But it’s the existential comfort that I love, the moment when I smell it and taste it and feel the heat of it run down my throat. I can drink it and read my book over blades of smoke rising from the surface, lighting my nostrils. The room is quiet, it smells nice, no one interrupts me as I read and I can fill my cup as many times as I like. The clock has no power there. The cell phone is off. There is no power except that which I allow—the coffee and the book and more coffee.
Growing up in America, we thirst for these moments. You may not thirst for coffee as I do, and for me it isn’t even necessarily coffee that transports me to this fantastical world. The drink doesn’t really matter (though it helps when it’s hot), but I shut myself away from the world around; I lock the door to my mind and toss the key. Uninhibited quiet. I don’t call it “silence” because to me that is just the absence of sound. “Quiet” is its own entity; the presence of something instead of just the vacuum of what usually is. Peace. It all shuts down and slows down and maybe, if you’re lucky, it all stops completely. Stillness. Hold onto that. And go back to that café as many times as you can.
Because this kind of place comes only so often. It’s the kind of place where you leave everything outside, check all problems at the door. When you walk in and see French presses at work, smell the black richness of espresso, taste the steaming mug and smile as it warms your fingertips, it acts as a kind of mind-wipe. A good kind. A kind that makes you forget your problems and freezes that moment of peace, and time drips by slowly. Life is good, peaceful, safe. True sublimity and satisfaction. It’s a special room, an inner sanctum. You see old friends there. They welcome you, pat you on the back, offer you their best chair and a spot closest to the fire. It’s been too long friend, they say, we’re glad to have you back. You enjoy your time. You pass it with laughter and stories and yes, steaming coffee. You don’t feel pressured to do anything else because there is nothing else to be done. When you do leave after awhile, you do so full and content and joyful. They wave goodbye to you as you put on your coat and even hand you a leftover pastry in a plastic baggie for the road. You leave with hugs and kisses and dream of when you can come back.
Someday you do, and each time is better than the one before. You see, it’s all so simple there. The café doesn’t ask questions, doesn’t demand anything from you, doesn’t kick you out if you’ve been there too long. You sanctify the time and drink deeply, because it may be awhile before you experience it again.
It had been a long time. Though I’d had coffee since then, I hadn’t been in my clean, well-lighted place. I hadn’t sat down, read, let the time flow by with little care. It’s an example of what we all yearn for in life. We want those special moments and slow, quiet times. We want a chance to experience a taste of what God meant for us, what he designed for Adam and Eve and what man’s pride shamefully destroyed. Part of our purpose on this earth is reclaiming just a sliver of that peace that we threw away. Finding it is rare, but it happened this week in West Jerusalem. We were in the modern section of the city and found a place called The Coffee Bean. I drank my coffee; didn’t read but it was okay. We talked and fellowshipped and laughed. We sanctified the time. We drank deeply.
And I was content.