When I sat down I noticed that her eyelids were tightly drawn, lips moving, but with no sound. Her fingers caressed a string of beads, and her head was titled upward. I watched, rather rudely, but then relaxed. It dawned on me that I was invisible. This elegant silver haired lady found herself on a rush hour train, headed to Manhattan, but had shut it all out, stopped the harried motion of purpose, and for half an hour, found a kind of rest meant to awaken sight. I learned a lesson in that moment about how to seek and enjoy God as refuge.
What I observed is called liminality, a voluntary displacement for the sake of perspective, or transformation. We can make it happen at any point on our journey. This woman was enjoying being somewhere else, while crushed between giant shoulders, each holding a Wall Street Journal. It was beautiful, and it reminded me that finding that kind of refuge has a lot to do with seeking the refuge God has provided through Himself. Inspired by this nameless saint, I took matters in hand the next morning.
People groaned as the 6:33am express eased into the station. The train was of early 80’s vintage, a real rattle-trap. These beauties were all tin can, and no luxury. The air conditioning sometimes worked, and the bathrooms, never open, smelled backed up. Yet, in my excited heart, I prayed a selfish prayer. ‘Lord, could you give me the hatch?’
The ‘hatch,’ as I called it, was a seat at the very end of the train, which faced backwards so that you could see the rails running out behind you. When I boarded, I went to the rear, and there it was, unoccupied! I threw myself onto the hard, too tight seat, and fetched out my bible. The sun streamed through the scratched milky glass, warming me. I shut my eyes, and remembered my seat mate with the rosary. Here was my moment, regardless of what was before me, my liminal moment, to know God’s pleasure, and to ask Him to pour life into my tired shell. I was interrupted only once, when the conductor punched my ticket. By the time I reached Penn Station, God had brought fresh sight. I didn’t mind the mosh pit of bodies gliding up the escalator to 34th street. Nor, did it phase me when a fast cussing-like-a-sailor woman in business casual let me know I was in her way. These were people, God reminded me; He had died to bring life to them. God had spoken from the hatch, my refuge, and now the shoving, swearing and angry river of humanity was my invitation to love.
The Lord has been teaching me about the discipline of seeing our walks with God as not only a journey, but a waiting journey. Psalm 84 says in the message, “How blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel; They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks, discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain! God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and at last turn—Zion! God in full view!”
A friend texted last night to inform me her daughter had died. Shocked and saddened, God used her words to lift my heart, because Her message was so full of hope! My friend knows her daughter has taken the last turn, and now loves God far greater than even the most perfect liminality could foster.
We wait on the journey for the last turn, and in that hope, we find strength to carve from our harried, sometimes wringing-hands schedule, space where we taste what it will be like when we do see Him face to face. Though but a morsel, compared to the final turn, fight for these moments. They sustain us in the waiting journey.