Recently I visited NYC and made the very intentional decision to travel via Amtrak. I was looking for a certain type of experience: a linear experience. Call it an experiment if you like. Maybe a more accurate term would be a “repentance-experiment.” I have this problem, you see. My problem is that I chaff at the linearity of life. I have trouble accepting that I am a mere point moving along the unrelenting line of time. It feels out of control, I feel small and I don’t like it.
I’d say that I “have trouble accepting” linearity. But it is more honest to say that I rebel against it. Living “one day at a time” or “in the present” is something I try to escape from. I escape either by fleeing into the future (unproductive worry) or retreating into the past (unproductive regret). But it is all the same thing – I refuse to be where I am.
So I chose the train for a couple of reasons:
1) It is clearly linear; you are where you are. I hoped the linearity would experientially recalibrate me to reality: to be where I am. It would be difficult, I knew. I am so very good at not being where I am. I wanted to see if the linear experience might disrupt my techniques.
2) Amtrak, like life, is a slow experience of being carried along by forces outside your control. Yet, like life, I still have choices within my particular car, my particular seat. I wanted to see if I would make those choices.
Here’s how my “repentance-experiment” went.
Departure was scheduled to for 1:41 AM. Perfect, I thought, already out of my “sleep” comfort zone. When I got to the train station, my Amtrak App informed me that the train was 2 hours late. Hmmm… perfect again…
We finally pulled out of the station at 3:58AM – a slow rolling motion. So with 7 hours ahead of me I tried to sleep. In and out of awareness, rocking, forward progression, trusting. I was tired but off to a good start. The whole experiment was designed to teach my body-soul to experience acceptance of my life-position. Let myself be carried forward, allow my life to roll underneath and behind me.
Of course, it is futile to resist linearity. Silly really. Imagine me pushing my heels into the floor trying to slow the train. Or leaning my shoulder against the seat in front as if to propel the car forward. But I can live silly; sin is so foolish. I am always bracing/dreading or pushing/escaping. I waste precious moments of my life, forfeiting the very thing I am trying to preserve. But for a few, dark uncomfortable hours, I focused on trusting. Feel the movement. Sit in the moment. Be carried along.
The train ride helped me. The rocking movement. I noticed that a certain pleasure when I accepted the “being carried along.” And the more I accepted it as something I could not control, the more the pleasure increased.
The sensation is difficult to describe. On the one hand, it is like releasing of a burden. The locomotive of life is too heavy to push and too massive to stop. You feel such relief when you cease wrestling. And on the other hand, you pick up a burden – but it is a smaller, human-sized burden. You take on the responsibility of being a healthy passenger.
Then comes the surprise. With the responsibility comes a gift.
The more you accept the responsibility of being a healthy passenger, the more life you get back. You can feel – when you attend to your seat – the flow, the rocking motion – you heart begins to reset to the cadence of life. You rest in the moment where you are. There is a kind of timelessness here – neither ahead nor behind of the “given” moment.
Here is the point: To be “in the given” is what it means to “live in grace.”
I think I need another train trip.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. In addition to counseling individuals & couples, Roger teaches & leads discussion groups about applying the Bible to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor, holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana & earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from UNCC. He is married to Jean, and they have seven children.