Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Spiritual Discipline of Public Transportation

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (RSV)

I have been blessed with a long commute.

I ride the bus every morning for thirty minutes to a Metro station and then I ride the Metro for another twenty or twenty-five minutes before arriving at Farragut North and walking the couple blocks to my office.

It might sound strange to hear me describe my long commute as a blessing, and, indeed, for many months I thought of it as a curse. I’m going to share with you the story of why I changed my attitude about commuting.

When I first moved to the Washington, D.C. area, I lived in an apartment close enough to work that I could walk there in about thirty minutes. Walking to work was a nice way to start the day. Later, I moved to a house further away, but near a Metro station within thirty minute ride from work. Three years ago I moved again, this time into a house in the middle of suburban nowhere, well beyond walking distance and not near a Metro station. However, I am on several bus lines. For more than a year, I rode the bus every workday morning, sometimes reading, sometimes just looking out the window, but usually resenting that I couldn’t have slept in just a little longer.

Then sometime last year I decided that I would make better use of the time and start doing daily devotional readings. I began using The Upper Room magazine that Foundry provides in the narthex. So for several months my morning routine became get on the bus, read a bit of scripture and a brief inspiring message, and then dig out a book or magazine to read for the rest of the ride.

Earlier this year I began praying after I had done the devotional reading. Now, the devotional reading does end with a brief prayer, but I don’t think reading the one or two sentence prayer really counts. I wasn’t getting into the spirit of prayer within those couple of lines.

Up until that time, I had been the kind of person who prayed only when led to do so. That means that for the most part I prayed during church on Sunday mornings. I had been thinking for some time of taking up daily prayer. I figured that it would do me some good. You see, I have been carrying around a lot of hurt and unresolved anger. I have also had anxieties that need to be relieved. I knew, instinctively, that I needed to spend some time every day in the company of God. I needed to pray, but I did not have the praying habit. Developing new habits isn’t easy. Distractions and old ways of doing things get in the way.

My commute has created the perfect opportunity for me to read scripture and pray every day. I have now built into my day plenty of time free from distractions. Indeed, there is little else that I could do with the time.

When I pray, I do a bit of talking: I thank God for my son, for my friends and family, I ask to be transformed, I recount my sins and ask forgiveness, and I ask God to intercede in other people’s lives. But I don’t do all the talking; I also make a point of spending a few minutes sitting silently listening to God. So far God hasn’t had anything to say, but I do enjoy the silent time we spend together.

Occasionally I put off reading the Bible and I don’t get around to praying before my commute is over. Now when I skip my devotional reading or praying it seems like I haven’t really started the day right. I haven’t cleared my mind. I’m anxious and distracted. Starting my day with the Bible and with prayer helps me get through the day, and I’m praying because I’m riding the bus.

Now if I could just find something to do on the ride home.