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Friday, January 09, 2009

"I'm sittin' in a railway station, got a ticket for my destination . . mmm"

I have always loved to travel by train. I much prefer it to any other mode of transportation. While I love driving my little VW Convertible Bug, a train ride is far more relaxing - and productive.

I can read the newspaper or my favorite book, work on my lap top, get up and walk to the Cafe Car to get a snack, and, occasionally, engage in some relaxed, interesting conversations with fellow travelers.

Oh, and eavesdrop on the conversations of others without a shred of guilt.

I took the train to NYC yesterday - a 45 minute ride on the Midtown Direct - which gave me the luxury of lingering over the New York Times and the New Jersey Star Ledger - something I rarely get to do because I pretty much scan stories online.

There's something about holding a newspaper in your own two hands that is deeply satisfying. Well, I suppose that is true for those "of a certain age".

I love the feel and the smell of the ink on newsprint, and although it doesn't happen much any more, I don't even mind getting some of the black stuff on my hands. I also love the juxtaposition of stories on the page - the way some stories seem, unintentionally, to be a comment on others.

Besides, there are some stories that appear in print that you simply cannot find online, and vice verse.

Yesterday's Star Ledger had an interesting article on the front page: "For time-challenged, spirituality comes in small bites" by Duke Helfand. I can't seem to find it online. (See what I mean?).

The article begins: "So you're racing through another jampacked day, late picking up the kids from basketball practice because you got stuck at the office. Then you pay the bills, walk the dog and perhaps grab cold pizza before collapsing into bed. When do you ever find time for God?"

Mr. Hefland continues to catalogue some new publications that address that question: "The One Minute Bible, Day by Day." "5 Minute Theologian: Maximum Truth in Minimum Time." "Aunt Susie's 10-Minute Bible Dinners: Bringing God into Your Life One Dish at a Time."

There's "7 Minutes with God," which promises, "Learn how to plan a daily quiet time that takes you just seven minutes."

And, what about your over-programmed 10 year old? What about "The Kid Who Would Be King: One Minute Bible Stories about Kids"?

Mr. Hefland had me when he quoted Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, "What's the scarcest commodity in American life?" she asks, "How do we invite people to connect their life of faith with their life at the soccer practice or in the coffee shop or at the pub or waiting in line for something? I think that's the biggest challenge the church is beginning to recognize."

Preach it, sistah! My answer: Well, one small step is to take the train more often. It's a place where you can not only help lower the level of pollution and keep the planet green, you can also defy the laws of physics: you slow down your brain without slowing down your body.

The story continued on page 5, amid continued stories about the Senate flap over Roland Burris, an ad inviting you to 'help fight children's cancer' by donating your car, another to move your business into a 'First Class Address" in Newark, and a "Giant HDTV sale at P.C. Richards and Son." ($1,000 off and up to 18 months No Interest on HDTVs)

It was the picture on page 4, just across from the Religion/Spirituality story that caught my eye. Pictured was a little boy with his father.

He's just a little guy and he has his shirt off. His father is holding his head and the boy is holding something over his shoulder that looks like a chain with something that looks like a small air plane propeller attached.

He is surrounded by other children and a few adults. The children look morbidly fascinated. Some look horrified. One of the male adults is looking away. A woman is clutching her heart.

You have to read the caption to get the story: "A Pakistani Shi'a Muslim teaches his son how to flagellate himself with knife blades on chains during a Muharram procession in Lahore, Pakistan, yesterday. Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, is observed around the world with 10 days of mourning in remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad."

Well, there it is, then. I suppose there's an argument to be made for having too much time on one's hands.

I put down my paper for a moment to consider the juxtaposition of the two stories when I was distracted by a few conversations around me, which I had been completely oblivious to previously.

I couldn't see any faces, but the voice was that of a young woman - oh, late 20s, early 30s.

"And so I said to him, I said, 'No way'," she said,

"And so now, . . . literally? . . .," she continued, "I have to run into The City for this interview and then . . .seriously? . . . I have to be on a plane . . . TONIGHT at 6 PM . . .for Albany."

"Swear. To. God." she said to him she said.

Then, she gasped dramatically, "Isn't that INSANE?"

The young gentleman with her made a sort of a grunting noise that I suppose was meant to signal his agreement. Then I heard him say, "It's CRAAAAZZZYYY!"

A few seats up and to my right, another conversation - same situation, young woman, young man - and she was saying, "Seriously? I am sooooo psyched for you! That's AMAZING!" she said.

The young man apparently agreed, "Right. I mean . . .literally? . . .it's just INSANE!" he said.

"CRAAAZZZZY" she agreed, enthusiastically.

Their . . . erm . . ."conversations" . . . continued like this for 45 minutes, wafting in and out of my reading and reflections on the newspaper articles.

They were clearly communicating to each other, but they seemed to be - almost literally - singing a different verse of the same sing-song story.

There was clearly the excitement and enthusiasm that often marks the ebullience of youthful conversations. I love the way they take the sound of words that are meant to be fact (Seriously. Literally.) and turn them into questions.

And, I suppose when you live in a world where you can be in NYC by train in the morning and Albany by plane that evening, the only descriptive word for most of the things in your life is "INSANE!"

Even God gets portioned up in 7 minute daily sound bites - 1 minute if you're a kid - so you can fit time in for The Divine as you multitask your way through the day.

I'm still ruminating on the question asked by Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, "What's the scarcest commodity in American life?" she asks, "How do we invite people to connect their life of faith with their life at the soccer practice or in the coffee shop or at the pub or waiting in line for something? I think that's the biggest challenge the church is beginning to recognize."

Or, to put it in the title of the book, how can we find "maximum truth in minimum time"?

Me? I love trains, where I can sit and listen and think about how small the world has become, and yet sometimes, when you travel to another country, you not only have to cross geography, you have to travel back - or forward - in time.

In some cases, like the picture of the young boy in Pakistan, we're not just talking "time zones". We're talking centuries!

The 'church catholic' has got quite a challenge on Her hands - perhaps more so than at any other time in "Her/story". The 'global village' has become so small, and yet we are still so far apart on so many levels.

Please don't misunderstand me - just a 20+ hour plane ride, give or take a few time zones, and that same father would be charged with child abuse in this country.

But, I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, if our faith were more embodied - more sensual, at least - perhaps it wouldn't be so hard to connect what we say we believe with what is happening in the rest of our lives.

You know, if you could hold and touch and feel and smell your faith the way I prefer doing that with the newspaper vs. reading the same story in cyberspace.

I mean, what if we MOVED more during our time of worship? What if we actually moved our bodies toward the altar during the offertory, instead of just our money and other offerings?

I remember reading somewhere that at St. Gregory of Nissa in San Fransisco, there is an option to pray the Lord's Prayer with your body as well as your mouth. Apparently, this was done in the early church.

I'm not a big fan of Liturgical Dance, but you know, when it's done well it can be the difference between saying the psalms and chanting the psalms.

I don't know. I'm just thinking that if we were more embodied in our lives - especially our lives of worship - we might actually understand more about the incarnation. Not as a doctrine, but as the Risen Lord who lives in us.

Then again, seriously? Literally? I just might be INSANE!


Unknown said...

I saw a video of the Gospel Procession at St Gregory in which the deacon danced....slowly and gracefully to the place the gospel was to be pronounced. It was very beautiful, and I promised myself I would worship there if I ever get to San Francisco. I think some people do "get it" are anything but crazy!

Kirkepiscatoid said...

I have always found it fascinating that the word "praise" in Hebrew actually covers about 6 or 7 different words..."praise with your mouth," "praise with your hands,", "praise by davening (bowing)," etc. But in English it just all gets translated as "praise."

Kind of like how the Inuit have all those words for "snow."

That's a good reminder to me. I just wish there was "Praise by unclogging the church toilet," (my favorite job as Jr. Warden...NOT!)

gerry said...

Hello Elizabeth, this has nothing to do with your post on railroads but I have news from Central NY and no email address for you.

Supreme Court Justice Ferris Lebous has apparently ruled in favor of the Diocese and the National Church in the matter of the Church of the Good Shepherd.

An anouncement on Blog of the Good Shepherd has no details and the websites of the local media outlets don't have anything yet.

Looks like this chapter is approaching resolution.

Gerry Hough

Pat Klemme said...

You just gave stellar expression to my new lifestyle as a car-free human being. I bus or rapid-rail to work, stores, church, friends. Or I walk, super good for my body, emotions, mind and spirit.

I had no idea what I was missing in my car. People ask, "Doesn't it take a lot longer to get there?" "Yessss!" I grin gleefully. The best times of my life now are spent on public transportation.

Thanks for helping me see even more benefits. I have been communicating with my HP and people in a whole new way, but you offer even more.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...


Someone sent me a link to the article, so I put on asbestos sneakers and my kevlar vest under my long trench coat, put on a long scarf over my head and my dark sun glasses and traveled over their incognito. (Sweet Mr. Melanie Griffith, meek and mild like the Baby Jesus changed the locks and thinks I'm too dumb to find my way over there).

I think they think I'm going to say something mean and nasty - as Mr. Kennedy is doing regarding Bishop Gene - but I'm not. (My site meter is spinning out of control - which only happens when the Trolls get a bee in their bonnet.)

It's nothing personal. It's not about being good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, God is on someone's side and not another's. It's just property law.

This is a very, very sad time for the Kennedy family. Let's honor that and keep them in prayer.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I'd love to visit St. Gregory's too, John. Next time I'm in SanFran I'll have to make sure it happens.

Kirke, I'm going to have to go to my favorite Rabbi an ask him for a "Praise by unclogging the church toilet" - AKA "The Jr. Warden's Prayer."

Pat - I'm happy to provide more reasons to 'go green'. I walk whenever I can and taken public transportation as often as I can. Although, I confess that the bus is my least favorite option. I put less than 1,000 miles per year on my car - and that's with all my trips to RB. If there were an easy train ride beyond Willmington, I'd be on it every week.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Well, I know it will start with "Baruch atoh Adonai eloheinu melech ha'olem." So I will have half of it already. It pays sometimes to have had a colleague and mentor who taught one Hebrew and Yiddish as well as medicine. I think I may well be the most fluent shiksa in NE Missouri.

Bill said...

My favorite part of riding the train was getting to do the Times crossword.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ah, Bill, your powers of concentration are much stronger than mine. I get too distracted by listening to the conversations on the train.

VTcrone said...

If I am remembering correctly, Linda Stromeyer used to do a slow graceful dance when she gave a homily.

As for "flying' from NJ to Albany, it would be faster to drive as it's a straight shot up a couple of interstates.