Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Just Passing Through?: Confessions of a Chronic Commuter

Ten miles from Huntingdon, my home, sits a piece of land that is used for two distinct purposes. To some folks this land is known as McAlevy's Fort, a rural community home to farms, churches, a charter school, historic buildings, and of course, the people that attend to and inhabit these places.

To another cohort of people, this land is more frequently known as Rt. 26--the main thorough-way that leads north to State College.

To the former, its a space to be. The latter, a space to travel through.

An intersection at the north side of this town has an uncertain future. PennDOT has red-flagged it as dangerous and inconvenient to motorists and have thereby drafted plans to rework the road and in the process remove two buildings and a stop sign. Community members are petitioning the construction, arguing that doing so would put the community's safety and well-being at risk as motorists that already speed through their neighborhood will have another obstacle removed.

The last I heard, they're going ahead with the project. The needs of McAlevy's Fort have been overshadowed by the needs of Route 26.

There's more to the story, but this issue and talking to folks about it has reminded me how often our culture views space as something to move through rather than something to reside in.

This summer I have fallen victim yet again to this mode of being.

I have been rushing through time and space with a list of tasks in my head and "Excuse me", "Pardon me", "I must be going"s on my lips. As an optimist whose optimism extends to how many hours I think are in a day, time management has never come easily to me. But between a full-time job with additional responsibilities, moving, starting a business and trying to end another job well, this summer was the first time I ever went for so long without a full night's rest, so few meals and virtually no time spent reading, praying or writing.

The last few months I have failed miserably at adventuring slowly.

Now, I have no desire to have a pity party for myself--trust me, I've had plenty of those and I can only send my regrets and gratitude to the longsuffering ears that patiently listened. But rather, I'd like to share what I've learned, quite certainly more for my sake than yours.

What happens when you work too much:

1. You can't love people. 
When I am too busy, people become inhuman to me. They are no longer creatures made in the image of God with hopes, pain, gifts and stories, but are interruptions--obstacles standing between me and the thing I need to get to next. The lesson I learned (not for the first time, and probably not for the last) is no matter how "noble" that "next thing" I am trying to get to is, if it routinely makes me treat people as objects or obstacles, I need to rethink some things.

2. You can't pray.
Sure, I can say "Dear Jesus, thank you for this food." I can attend church and say "Amen." I can pray the liturgy of hours. But I cannot fully enter prayer. I can't bring my weariness to the one who promises to give me rest. There's no time. I can't receive Christ's words of hope, joy and peace. There's no time. The caveat of course, is that in God's endless mercy, our groans can be prayer. Our "Ugh! I don't even know what's going ON anymore!" can be prayer. And in God's endless mercy, he extends peace to us. But it is still up to us to receive that peace. And when I'm all-consumed with my work, that reception is not happening. There's no time.

3. You can't worship.
Worship is being in awe. Awe is what happens when we lift our heads and see clearly the awesomeness of our Creator, our Redeemer, of the world, and of its redemption. When my nose is relentlessly to the grindstone, I cannot look up, I am not inspired, and my so-called worship is nothing but a white-washed tomb.

So much around us invites us to be on the go, to move forward, to plan for the next thing. We are urged to be chronic commuters, but at what expense?

Is it possible to live so that space and time are no longer means to an end, but an end in and of themselves?

Could preparing dinner be a holy act, a time of prayer for those who have no food to prepare?

Might the most monotonous moments of my workday reveal themselves as opportunities to be faithful in the little things?

If I leave ten minutes earlier for work, would I find my commute is full of graces? Might I notice the changing position of the sun and the color of the leaves as the summer wanes? Or perhaps I'll notice anew the neighborhoods I pass through and in my recollection pass through them more slowly.

Most of us have the freedom to restructure our lives so that we are free to be where we are and not just chronic commuters. And perhaps if we did a little more of it, we'd be more free to give preference to the needs of the people who inhabit a place rather than to those merely passing through.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, friend.

    1. Thanks for reading, Andy! I suspect (and hope!) you're soaking up a lot of "being for the sake of being" these days. :)