For many years, I took Amtrak everywhere, rather than flying. There were many reasons for this–I enjoyed seeing the beauty of this country and crossing timezones at a slower speed. I loved getting to know fellow travelers, many from distant countries where train travel was the norm. I also was terrified of flying, which thankfully, has been healed.
One of my favorite things about train travel was the anticipation. When I got on the train, it felt like the beginning of an adventure–new sights, sounds, and people to enjoy. Everything was interesting, everything called to my attention.
At night, sleeping on a moving train can be challenging–it is much more turbulent than a normal plane or car ride–so I would find myself staring out the window, watching the darkened landscape zip by, wondering about the souls asleep in houses tucked away just beyond the tracks.
One December, I traveled from Boston to Texas via Chicago and as I kept vigil in the dark, speeding through Western Massachusetts, I saw something beautiful: houses miles apart bejeweled with holiday lights. These farms were far from towns, major roads and even sight of each other, and I wondered why they put up lights. Certainly, their occupants no doubt enjoyed coming home to the bright splendor on dark winter nights, but in this one long lonely stretch of farmland and trees, it was a regular sight. Even random outbuildings were lit up.
Then I realized. Near as they were, they could see the passenger trains and knew we could see them, if we looked. In the time-honored tradition, that still happens in rural America, you wave at trains–and during the day those on the train wave back.
That night, every shining house was waving, hoping to be seen, giving a gift of beauty if we on the train would but look.
Contemplative living is an odd mix of both paying attention without expectation about what will be noticed, and hope that there is something and someone to notice, maybe to even receive a glimpse of the deeper Love that holds everything together.
But sometimes what beckons to be noticed is not lovely or beautiful or desired.
Sometimes what we hope for is dampened or destroyed in disappointment. And when this happens, I often ask: Why keep paying attention? Why live contemplatively–to look with and for God in the world–when all I see are disappointed hopes?
The author of Proverbs writes, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when longing is fulfilled, it is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12)
Our hopes point us to the Author of All Hope, and while we live in a world where hope is often deferred, to live in hope is to live abundantly in God.
We can take our longings to the God who holds us and weeps with us, and live again in hope for how he will redeem our disappointment (and oh, yes! How wonderful is his redemption revealed in Christ.)
Yesterday, we considered how a way to find out what you love is to pay attention to what breaks your heart.
Today, I’d invite you to tenderly and gently pay attention to your disappointment in order to find your hope.
Follow the bread crumbs back to that fragile hope, to the house bejeweled with light in the darkness, and to the Love waiting there to hold and heal and cherish you.
God is waving at you in your hopes, look out the window and see.