A candle burned between us in a small, dim conference room. “Have you ever been to the Double Door Inn?” my mentor asked.
I drew a blank. “Uh, is that a new brewery?”
Here in Charlotte, North Carolina, breweries and condominiums were multiplying like bacteria.
Dave laughed. “Monday nights at the Double Door: best live music you’ll ever hear,” he exclaimed.
I didn’t know there was live music in Charlotte. I hadn’t even heard of any kind of art in this banking town, pulsating with the American Dream, erecting its slick, modern buildings atop its culture and history, its citizen-workers in suits and ties chasing, always chasing, the “bottom line.”
That was before I discovered that a robust art scene hummed in the shadows of the city’s corporate facade. To me, Charlotte lacked character, culture, and identity, blinded by the glare of its own shine. But that was before I found the Double Door Inn, or, better said, before the Double Door Inn found me.
Dave blew out the candle and stood up. “Grab your hoodie and let’s go!”
I met Dave a year or so before when he noticed a disheveled writer (me) fumbling through a big binder of transcribed interviews in a coffeeshop. Apparently my own confused, disorderly vibe comforted him that I could be trusted with his own creative chaos. He asked me to help him on his book about union with God, but really, every time we got together, Dave was helping me reconstruct my broken faith. Dave was a mystic. I had never before encountered a Christian whose faith was so open, inclusive, and cosmic. Dave’s spirituality was in stark contrast to the religion I had been immersed in but could no longer sustain: highly dualistic divisions between sacred and secular, saved and unsaved. Those stark contrasts birthed a worldview of certitude in which those who believed were right and those who disagreed with them were wrong, and just about everything had a black-or-white answer.
Each time Dave and I met, he would light a candle. The flame, he told me, served as a reminder of God’s presence—here, now, in us, through us. The spiritual life, he said, was about becoming more aware of what was already true. The same awareness we had for the candle—the flickering light on the walls around us and the tobacco scent that permeated the room—could extend to the deepest spiritual mysteries in life.
Before I met Dave, a candle was just a candle.
When Dave and I arrived at the Double Door Inn, we parked next to a strip of struggling restaurants. Nothing around us looked like a music venue—more like we were picking up Chinese take-out. I looked at him and asked, “Where the hell are we?”
When he guided me next door to an old, white, battered house, I wondered if I had gotten this Dave guy all wrong. Maybe this strange house was where he massacred his victims, chopping them up and eating them in a stew. But as we drew closer, I could hear music percolating through the walls, and I felt relief that my mentor was not a sociopathic cannibal and I would indeed live to see another day.
We paid five dollars cash at the door and walked into that shack of a thing. Inside, it looked just as inconspicuous and run- down as it did from the outside. I had been to small music clubs before, but this place was tiny. There were barely a dozen stools at the bar. The chairs facing the stage were odd wooden theater seats bolted into a platform on the floor. In the back of the bar was a pool table, an arcade machine, and a smelly bathroom. Upstairs was a small green room for the bands.
Hanging on the walls around the establishment were dozens of black-and-white photos of musicians who had played there, as patrons brought them their stories and love for music. There was nothing “sexy” about this place. But as the music filled the white house, and as people filled the music, I was seized by a sense of belonging there—a place of inner contentment in a world that only reinforces our discontent, convincing us of our incompleteness. As Dave and I sat in the back row of those strange, uncomfortable wooden seats, I finally began to understand why Dave always lit a candle.
For the next two hours, I took in the scene as the six-person jam band that evening called the Monday Night Allstars performed anything from blues to funk to soul to R&B—their talent evident, their joy even more evident—as they played their hearts out, inviting all in attendance to come as they were and enter into the experience that was their music. It was as if I had stepped behind the veil of that corporate city in the Bible Belt—shrouded with all its glamorous, sanctimonious facades—and had found something that was real, a place where all that mattered was love and joy, a place where nobody really gave a shit, a place where nobody masked their emptiness by “doing” and instead willingly entered into “being.”
Sitting there in that uncomfortable seat, absorbed by the sounds, I felt connected to the depth and beauty of life. I left behind all my overthinking about nothing. In this city where we were always going, doing, accomplishing, pursuing, claiming, attaining . . . now, nothing mattered but the present. The band was swimming in the stream of their collective joy and love-rooted creativity, which freed us to swim along as well, without a care in the world where we were going, because all that mattered was that the water refreshed us and it felt good to swim and we were being carried somewhere. I felt as if I had tasted what I was looking for, something that really was authentic, something true beneath all things.
At one point, Dave nudged me and pointed toward a figure in the crowd—a heavyset man in big glasses and suspenders who was sporting a wide grin and whose head bounced around violently to the beat of the music, perhaps the most unnatural, beautiful, freeing form of dancing I had ever seen.
“That’s what Love can do,” Dave said to me, eyeing the man with the bouncing head. “It can free you to be unashamedly yourself without a care in the world what others think of you because your reality is Love itself.”
That first night at the Double Door was an experience of a contemplative kind of seeing—clear spiritual vision that pierces through the layers of perception, performance, ego, and attachments that cloud our reality and prohibit us from living fully and freely, or, as Jesus said, abundantly. What is this sensation, exactly? What does it teach us about ourselves and Reality? And what do we do when it’s gone? For five bucks at the door, I’d gotten a glimpse of a spiritual search worth taking on.