As I boarded the Metro North Train from Grand Central Station around 5:00pm on a Thursday, I quickly realized that I had been out west and away from public transit so long that I had completely forgotten what “rush hour” was. To be certain, Kansas City has it version of “rush hour” but it is nothing compared to cities like New York. The Train was absolutely filled with people occupying every available space. Those who had gotten onboard early were lucky enough to have seats. The rest of us stood shoulder-to-shoulder as the train left the Grand Central headed north to Poughkeepsie.
One look around and it was clear that while most people were really uncomfortable, the regular commuters had become accustomed to the crush. The woman next to me swapped her pair of 6-inch, platform pumps for slippers. The man next to her leaned against the side of the train-car, put his earbuds in, and seemed to tune out the rest of the world.
The train gradually emptied as the train rumbled north passing Harlem, Tarrytown, and Croton-on-Hudson until I had enough space to notice where I was – the Hudson River Valley. The scenery was absolutely stunning. The experience of awareness and openness was only beginning as I would spend several days at a monastery beside the Hudson River where the was air still enough for me to hear my own breath.
Everything about my first day at the monastery felt awkward to me. The prayers were said slowly and intentionally. The breakfast was silent. The air was empty and yet filled with life. I felt like Elijah in the cave as I began hearing the voice of G-d in stillness and smallness. Soon I settled into the rhythm and it was as if a whole new spiritual frequency had opened up. Old tapes of inadequacy and insecurity were replaced by songs of belovedness and intimacy. The transition scared me because I my coping mechanisms could not abide in the presence of G-d. I was defenseless and G-d prevailed.
I quickly realized how much like perpetual “rush hour” our lives really are. We rush from one thing to the next: taxiing children, rushing to meetings, and running errands. We are tempted into the allure of success and acquisitiveness. And much like the commuters in that train car, we have become accustomed to rat-race, developing coping mechanisms to help us deal with what is simply unnatural.
And I wonder how often we experience air still enough to hear our own breath.
Contrary to whatever message might be sent by both the collar I wear and the title I hold, I am as much a pilgrim as any other follower of Christ. The trappings of busyness and acquisitiveness are as alluring to me as anyone else. And yet, it is exceedingly clear to me that G-d calls us beyond “rush hour” and into Sabbath and my role as priest is to model a life lived above the crush of busyness and in the love of G-d. The drive for success is literally killing us, and G-d is calling us to experience abundant life that transcends our ability to produce and consume and simply allows us to be.
One of the common things I hear from people experiencing spiritual crises is the way in which busyness has displaced the practice of prayer. Busyness, not displeasure or offense, becomes the main reason a lot of people neglect church attendance. Church specifically, but our spiritual wellbeing more generally, becomes the one place in our lives where we can cut with no visible consequences. And what I hear in that the space for G-d to break into our lives is increasingly squeezed out.
It makes sense. In a culture that privileges production and consumption, our relationship with G-d doesn’t bear immediate fruit. The call to conversion that every Christian is called to simply takes too long for many of us. We cannot measure our life in the spirit with conventional tools, so we give up and in so doing, leave our spirits defenseless against the powers that would seduce us away from G-d, away from the very source of life and into the shadow of death.
But if we are to hear the voice that calls us “beloved,” the voice that speaks to our original goodness and blessing, the voice that connects with our deepest sense of being, we need space and silence. Prayer is more than the words we say or the rituals we perform, wonderful and beautiful as they might be. G-d does not need our words and rituals. We do. It is because we are so tempted away from consistency with God that we need to construct spaces in our lives to experience G-d. Our words and our actions are the altar and the sacrifice, not the consuming fire and abiding presence. So often our common worship is so filled with noise that there is little space to listen. Talk about G-d displaces talking with G-d. True prayer is in the space we create to commune with the One who bids us “arise my love, my fair one, and come away.” Like Abraham and Jacob, our task is to pause of journeys long enough to build altars of blessing and presence.
I am not sure what this “space” looks like for others, but each of us must discover it if we are to break the cycle of spiritual bankruptcy. G-d is trying to speak to each of us to speak assurance over fear, communion over estrangement, abundance over poverty, and love over indifference. It is a voice that is hard to hear over the crush of devastating dailyness, but it is the only voice that will satisfy our deepest yearnings.
G-d does not call us to merely cope with the utter dehumanization of busyness. The voice of G-d is still echoing the prophetic call of Moses to the powers that would diminish us – “Let them go. They are mine, they are my beloved. I have claimed them from the foundation of the world.”
Our task is to listen to that love song, and allow the voice of G-d to make us new creations over and over again