The Spirituality of Public Transportation

There are many reason why I like public transportation, and why my wife and I refuse to buy another car, making me rely heavily on public transit to get around.  Many of these reasons are common ones: it helps the environment, it is more cost-effective than the costs associated with an additional vehicle, and it allows me an opportunity to make the time used in my commute to be productive.

However, there is an additional reason why I prefer to take public transportation: it forces me to slow down.  Not only do I have to walk to a bus stop, I often have to wait for the bus.  I have to change buses and usually wait again, and then I walk from the bus stop to my destination.  Now, I only have to walk a block (typically) to get to or from a bus stop during my daily routine, but it still forces me to slow down more than if I would just jump in my car.

I have found that commuting via public transportation allows me an opportunity to take in sights, smells, and sounds of the city.  It helps me to notice things that I would otherwise glance right past while I’m driving down the road, and it actually helps to calm me during my commutes.  Of course, this view could arise from the fact that I (more or less) set my own schedule and I don’t have to punch a clock.

There are times in which I am able to have a conversation with someone on the bus, and these are people that I would not otherwise have been able to converse with. There are other times that I see one of my parishioners and we are able to catch-up a bit midweek.  It also gives me a bit more time to decompress before I get home after a stressful day.  These are all opportunities that are lost if I am alone driving my car here and there.

There are times that not having a car is cumbersome, and times in which it would be quicker and easier just to drive.  However, I try to use this as an object lesson for my need for patience.  The world will not end if it takes me fifteen minutes longer to get to my destination, the sun will not cease its cycle if I have to walk two blocks to the bus stop, and God will not abandon the world if I have to wait a few extra minutes for the bus.

Slowing down in this way can be understood in two ways: it can be understood as a burden to be avoided, or it can be understood as helping one’s mind and spirit to slow down.  I am a person who typically walks fast, I am focused on my destination, and in doing so, I often miss much of what is around me.  For instance, in front of the church are two big crabapple trees and the leaves have been sprouting.  Sadly, today was the first day that I realized it.  Regardless of the fact that I walk by these trees multiple times per day, I never stopped to notice them.

This makes me think of Moses and the burning bush.  In the story of the exodus, Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, and was leading them through the wilderness.  Moses noticed a bush that was on fire but was not being consumed.  “Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up” (Exodus 3:3, NRSV).  Moses was noticing what was going on around him, and had the urge to turn aside from where he was going to look at a strange sight.

What strikes me about this story, is that had Moses not noticed this sight, and had he not turned aside to investigate it, it is possible that he may have missed a message from God.  God spoke to him in a strange sight on the periphery of his route.  It makes me wonder, what might God be saying to me that I may be missing because I’m not paying attention to what is going on around me?  Commuting via public transit forces me to walk, to wait, and to be around others.  It invites me to notice the world around me.  Moreover, thinking beyond myself, in a world where “time is money” what might each of us miss if we are not paying attention to the world around us, and we don’t give a second thought to some of the things and people that God places on the periphery of our paths.

This is all why, for me, public transit is more than simply a way to get from point A to point B, but it is really an exercise in spiritual growth.

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