As I sit in a coffee house and write this, a train is rumbling by blowing its whistle and disturbing the coffee-drinking peace of those around me. I remember the time my wife and I had just moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, and we were camping in the most peaceful grouping of trees beside a vast glassy lake that reflected the surrounding snow-capped mountains. Sometime after we drifted off to sleep, we heard the thunderous sound, felt the tornadic rush and saw the midday light of a train that charged through maybe twenty surprising yards away!
Trains. When I lived in California near the famous Tehachapi railroad loop, a friend and I used to actually entertain the idea of hopping a train, just to see what would happen and to say we did it (for legal reasons, I won't say whether or not we ever did). My 3-year-old daughter is obsessed with the Christmas train we got to go around our tree. And to top it all off, the toy in her kids’ meal just yesterday was what? Yep, train.
There’s something about trains that captures the minds of many. Trains are loud and powerful and utilitarian. But I think it’s that they seem unstoppable that most holds our imaginations, tapping into our natural wanderlust. Trains have their own tracks, and they travel unimpeded by traffic or houses or even mountains. They just go, and they go to all sorts of interesting places that are anywhere but here. That’s what gets us—trains can take us somewhere else and let us enjoy the countryside as we go.
Unfortunately, we sometimes look at God in that sort of train-like way. The point of entering into a relationship with God, we tell ourselves, is so that God can take us anywhere but here and maybe let us enjoy the countryside as we go. We’ll sing phrases like, “And now I am happy all the day,” and then we’ll just fly away to heaven. That’s what faith is all about, right?
God might be like a train, but not because he takes us away from it all. God is like a train because he is the God who comes, not the God who goes. God is indeed a powerful, unstoppable force. But we are not waiting for him to take us way. Instead, we are to be about laying track so God can come into our midst, even as we follow him—the Way—on into the sunrise. I have to laugh because, as some sort of Jungian joke, the song “Peace Train” by Cat Stephens has just come on the radio in the coffee house. Choo-choo!