The Rector's Column February 2016

by The Rev. Dr. Jason Parkin, Rector

          I am riding on a limited express,
             one of the crack trains of the nation.
          Hurtling across the prairie into blue haze and dark air
             go fifteen all-steel coaches holding a thousand people.
          (All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men
             and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall pass to ashes.)
          I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he answers:
          "Omaha."
                                                                          Carl Sandburg, 1916

In the musical, Annie, Daddy Warbucks, at one point, states, "After New York City, everywhere else is just...Buffalo." In a similar vein, to a Chicagoan of the early 20th century like Carl Sandburg, Omaha was a symbol of everywhere else, of anywhere else, or where you ended up if you weren't going anywhere, or where you ended up if you didn't know where you were going. "Omaha" is simply a stop on the line, a neither-here-nor-there on the way from somewhere to somewhere else.

(I have been to Buffalo, and I have been to Omaha, and they are both, in fact, lovely places in their respective ways. But let's stay with the poetic metaphor for a moment.)

In Lent, we are given, each year, the opportunity to take stock, to gauge-if you will forgive the railroad pun-where we are headed in our journey of life. In Lent, we are faced with the question of whether our lives are directed somewhere, are headed in a particular course, or if we are simply riding to "Omaha." This season soon upon us offers the chance once again and anew to strip away all that keeps us tied down to life as it is instead of being open to life as it could be; to be once again and anew restored and refreshed in our relationship with God, with God's creation, and with God's other children; to be directed-to use that lovely and neglected word-Godward. In brief: what is preventing us from living Godward lives? What is keeping us from the destination of being immersed in God's grace and presence, of being enveloped by God's love? What, in our lives, in our work, in our relationships, is keeping us aimed toward "Omaha," wherever or whatever Omaha may be for each of us? This Lent, what single item, what particular practice, what personal hindrance can we offer, remove, exorcise, jettison as we seek to be reclaimed and re-created by God?

One final note about Carl Sandburg's brief poem; and that is the fact that the title of the work is, simply, "Limited." It refers to a particular train, yes; but it also refers, it seems to me, to the life we too frequently live. And is not Lent a time truly to become unlimited with and in and through God?