Friday, October 26, 2007

Sweet passion moves on,
leaving and separated,
etched moments remain.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Trains, Life and God

Written on a train while musing about God and inspired by a real life event

It takes a while, but in the end I can't ignore the question any longer. I've been thinking about it for several weeks and I've yet to find an answer that makes me happy, even if the answer seems right. That in itself is unusual, for I tend to find the truth a pleasure. If nothing else it acts as a relief and a certainty. There is something final about the truth that regardless of what the truth means it still provides some finality. A full stop like so.

Even the most terrible sentence has an end and up until now this has always been a belief of mine. This sadly has the consequence that every pleasant sentence must finish, even if I do like to think that this knowledge of finality makes the preceding words sweeter.

However I digress, so I'll try to focus back on the story. My mental toil all started a few weeks back when I was on a train heading back home after a training course. It was late and I was sat quietly in an almost empty carriage. The dark world of the night flew quickly past the windows and I was too engrossed in my book to notice much of what was going on around me.

I felt the pull of the brakes as the train slowed into another station. I glanced up out of the window to discover the name of the station. Under the lamp lit orange haze the blue and white sign let me know that this was the last stop before my station. I let my gaze drift past the sign and rest on the station car park. Surrounded by industrial estate warehouses the car parks seemed like the ghost of a park. A puddle lay on one side of the car park with it's edges tracing out the circular arcs of the shore line of a lake. A lone red BMW rested in the middle of this lake, striking a pose that was more like a duck than a built patchwork of metal. The lamps for the car park were that type with four globes of light splaying out from the central column of each. They stood still and silent as the simplistic expression of a tree bearing four heavy fruit. Perhaps one day this had all been a fertile plane of trees and lakes.

Putting aside romantic pretensions for a moment I realised that it had probably been a bog; the station was on low lying land near the river. It though about this connection for a moment, of transport of water and people and realised that the trains find it easiest to follow the flat path cut by the river over centuries.

My thoughts were pulled back to the carriage by our two new passengers. They got on to the train and walked past me to sit a couple of rows in front of me. They were roughly in the middle of the train and due to the arrangement of the seats they had their backs to me. I glanced around the carriage and saw that there was only one other passenger. He was in the far corner in front of me, gazing vacantly out into the darkness. His black hair stood on his head like corn stalks after a storm; a mess of lines that he probably spent several minutes perfecting every morning. In his ears sat iPod white headphones and he was miles away.

A stifled sob from the couple two rows in front of me drew my attention back to the middle of the carriage. From what I could tell from the backs of their head the man was looking out of his window to the left with the woman staring similarly out of the right side. As far as I knew no words had been exchanged, at least not audibly. The man slowly raised his right arm and placed it around the shoulders of the woman. Neither of their gazes were diverted from the night outside.

I considered what I should do. I felt compelled to try to talk to them, just to let them, but only if they wanted to talk. I mulled it over carefully. If this were a couple from my parish then I'd have no hesitation in talking to them, even if I knew them to be non-church goers. The parish that I am vicar for is a commuter village full of young professionals and old retirees. When I started several years ago I'd found out the few who were aggressively against religion early on and was always careful to be as diplomatic as possible around them.

This situation was clearly different though. I have no right to talk to them, I was just another guy on the same train to them. The chances are that they were not Christians and there were even greater chances that they'd be hostile. Most hostility I meet isn't in open aggression though, the aggressive people I meet tend to have some remainder of respect for holy men. The worst and most common form of hostility I get is from those that like to think of themselves as open minded liberals, even though they always strike me as anything but open minded. Whether it's them just trying to say as little as possible or if it's the slip of a sneer at the end of their sentences. I don't want you to misunderstand me, I don't hate these people. I pity them and their confidence of conviction hidden behind a veil of vanity. I wish them better understanding and hope that they come to accept the beauty of not drawing a line in the sand.

Regardless of their past or future attitudes I still aim to avoid these people. The clash of ideas will only further their strength of mind and risk my fall to rage. This might sound very feeble minded but the avoidance of temptation is an equal part of resisting it. Avoiding situations that would test my compassion and forgiveness is as valid as me avoiding strip clubs to resist temptations of the flesh. My mind was full of these thoughts, I felt I should offer my help but feared that their view of a bible basher would reflect a God basher back to me.

So I did nothing. I just looked at the back of their heads and tried to imagine what suffering they might be enduring. Ideas of death and fear filled my mind. Betrayal and deception also entered my thoughts. Could they be a couple who have just lost a child or might they be going through times of trouble in their love. He might have cheated on her, she might have cheated on him. They might have had lost everything or found out the presence of some terrible disease. They might be brother and sister, morning a lost parent. All manner and types of suffering went through my mind, each one carrying with it the smallest of questions: why?

My belief, the belief that God gives me, says that it is God's will. God's infinite compassion and plan are incomprehensible to us so many events seem to us to bring only evil. I believed this at the time and I still believe it now. God is above the world, beyond boundaries and outside time. He sees all and knows all. He knows our suffering but also our pleasure. He gives to us love and provides for us, even if his will and reason seem to be against us, he is by our side while we suffer, helping us. I know and understand all of this yet on the train I started to question it.

If I had talked to this couple and they had let me then we would probably have discussed my beliefs and my job. Even if they weren't Christian they might still have asked:
"Why? Why us? Why now?"

My reply would have been all the above and more, condensed down in to:
"It is the will of God, it has happened for a reason."

You may ask where my problem is, still having belief and still having faith. My first worry - if God made us in his image, why is our understanding and perception so limited compared to God's. Resolution of this came quickly, our free will and our original sin shapes and limits us and it is this limit that we needed Jesus for, for him to show us the way. My second worry has yet to be solved though and that worry is if God does not have a will. Why should God have intention if he knows all and what if free will and intention are experiences limit to humans.

How is saying it is the will of God, the great designer, any different from saying that it just happens that way. An exchange of:

A self supporting idea with no backing that could be used to cover anything. An unthinking response. It hasn't gone entirely un-thought about though and this is what has been on my mind of late.