Erin and I are on the train today, headed for Hartford, CT and Liberation Conversations 2012, the annual conference of my brother from another mother Bishop John Selders, Jr. This year Liberation Conversations will be held at Hartford Seminary for the first time, and I am looking forward to being in this historic and esteemed institution and the excellent presentations, conversations, and friendships new and renewed we will share together. We left Milwaukee yesterday, and will arrive tonight. Next Monday, we begin the journey home. This is Erin’s first long distance train trip, and as much as we are looking forward to the conference we are also enjoying our time together and alone on Amtrak!
There is something about the train that smacks of freedom. Nobody puts you in a body scanner, nobody charges you to check a bag – or two, for that matter – nobody makes you take off your shoes (though once on board you may choose to do so), and a host of other graces are afforded a traveler largely because it is very difficult, and largely
pointless, to hijack a train because it pretty much has to stay on the tracks to continue to run. The seats are large and comfortable – much better than airline seats – and you can get up and stretch your legs any time you like by walking from car to car. Personally, I like to go sit down to absolute strangers on the train and ask them if I can talk to them about Jesus. I find it makes me very popular on the train.
The truth is, of course, if you do find yourself seated next to a Jesus freak on the train – or any other kind of zealot, for that matter – you can escape them for rather long periods by stepping to the observation or dining cars. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel on Amtrak several times over the years. I have met some very interesting people, observed many interesting but not necessarily engaging people, and always arrived back home with stories and insights I can bring to everyday life.
I have heard people complain the it takes too long to travel by train, but I am at the point in life where I appreciate taking my time. Most trips only take about 24 hours, and if you stop to consider the time for packing and preparation, early arrival requirements, and restrictions around air travel the truth is that it has become very difficult to get anything accomplished on the same day of a flight. Really, it’s a matter of self-importance that is behind our drive to “have” to be places quickly. I lived that life when I was in the business world, and have no wish to go back there. Contemplative practice has made ego an obstacle rather than a virtue, and being in a rush has become a sign of misplaced priorities and poor planning rather than a value. If you want me, you will wait a couple of hours for me. If you don’t want to wait, then you don’t really want to see me – and I am absolutely fine with that. I would rather arrive refreshed and ready to attend to our time together than frazzled from being groped, prodded, scanned, and interrogated.
In the West we have traded relationships for efficiency, a trade that works to our detriment. The best gift we can give to one another is our authentic presence, a presence that is hard to give when we have rushed about at the expense of mindfulness. Wherever today takes you, go there intentionally and mindfully without judging yourself or watching the clock. You may just discover a whole new way to be present to life!