In Orlando, I lived 5 minutes from work. Yet it’s inevitable that I’d be pushing it to get to class or a counseling appointment. Such was the life of convenience. Living closer actually created more tension.
In the last piece, I introduced a “Spirituality of the City” – an urban way of living and being that invites deeper devotion and surrender to God. One crucial component of urban spirituality is the art of waiting.
I remember the first time I pulled up my transit options for my urban voyage to work. Several routes emerged, each requiring 45 minutes or more of transit time, as well as 2-4 transfers. Panicked, I entered the addresses again, and the same results came up. There’d be no drive-thru coffee, no quick back-track home if I forgot something, no sleeping as late as I could before class. In fact, I’d be at the mercy of an often fickle and unreliable mass transit system, riding on germ-infested busses and light-rail trains, hoping beyond hope that I’d make it to my destination on-time, without catching whatever the 30 other passengers were coughing up. My blood pressure began to rise.
(Of course, this was reason #342 why I was ticked at God for taking us away from our magic kingdom of convenience, and calling us to the messy realities of urban life.)
It’d take too much time to run through the full litany of messes I made in the first couple of months we were here, but here are some. I found that the reason seniors looked mad at me was because I was sitting in their designated seats. I found that coming by $1.50 in coins twice (or several times) a day was a royal pain in the backside. Even more frustrating was having to ask for change all of the time (urban spirituality, it turns out, requires you to ask for help…I hate that). I found that the pain in my neck wasn’t my kids, but the minor whiplash that comes from busses starting and stopping on a dime. After waiting on line for 20 minutes at City Hall, I found that they only accept cash for bus passes, and Sara had our bank card. I found that after ordering a Tommy’s Joynt carved ham sandwich, that I couldn’t have it because they only accept cash. Turns out, at many places, credit cards aren’t accepted, which is (once again) very inconvenient. I found out that busses break down, and that people wear germ-masks for a reason, and that 29 Noriega doesn’t go all the way to Geary, and that smells that I had never dreamed I’d smell hover longer in a bus than anywhere else on earth.
“Creation groans as it eagerly waits,” St. Paul once said.
But as it turns out, this discipline of frustrated waiting actually changes you after some time. In fact, it invites you to surrender. And for someone who craves control, it seems that one of God’s reasons for moving us out here was to teach me, yet again, that I’m a better man, a better husband, a better Dad, and a better friend when I’m stripped of control.
I’ve discovered, over the past months, that I can do without. So, I’d forget my power cord and need to ask for help. I’d be short a quarter and need to ask for help. I’d see a senior and need to give up my seat, only to be greeted by a smile. And I’d find out that for 15 minutes, my I-Phone would not give me the opportunity to check emails or surf the net while in a tunnel. I’ve learned to wait to use the restroom beyond what my convenience-loving bladder ever dreamed possible. And, I think I’m actually beginning to like the people around me a bit…even the smelly people…in a way that I didn’t or couldn’t before. (By the way, some of my fellow pastors actually say they “love” the poor and needy…I’m not so sure we need to go that far!) :)
Waiting is so damn frustrating. I think that’s what St. Paul might say today. It leads me, at times, to whining, which in turn leads to my wish list of ways God ought to make my life more convenient.
But it also exposes how selfish and arrogant I am.
Surrender is difficult. My greedy fists are clenched around any form of control I can get. I learned a long time ago that it’s easier to trust myself than others. Others disappoint. God disappoints. And that hurts. But if I’m in control, I can at least manage the disappointment, and blame myself if I fail. But God is the Author of a better Story than the one I’d write, and it seems He is committed to prying my clenched fists away even it means long transits on germ-infested city busses and trains. Sometimes it’s helpful to walk a labyrinth. And sometimes I’ll practice the Ignatian Examen, or the Lectio Divina. But it turns out that urban spirituality might be as simple as boarding the 29, taking it to the L-Taravel for a 20 min trip on light rail, and then transferring at Van Ness to the 47 or 49, depending on which gets there (if they do get there) first.
Last Thursday, the 29 was a no-show at 8:01am. God smiled, and so did I.