Andrée Seu Peterson: Passenger at the well

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, May 27th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Andree Seu Peterson now on planting spiritual seeds in unlikely soil.

ANDRÉE SEU PETERSON, COMMENTATOR: Having missed the 5:20 Lansdale local at Suburban Station by a hair’s breadth—and one of those divine retoolings of schedule that alter all history henceforth—I boarded the 5:35 R2 to Warminster, an unknown quantity.

The amount of humanity that a gaggle of skyscrapers is able to disgorge in 13 extra minutes is something I haven’t figured on; there will be no indulgence of hermit preferences on this ride, I see immediately, taking in at a glance the long corridor of double seats all systematically staked out at half occupancy, like some perfect binary math exercise of schoolboys.

This is the Northeast megalopolis, not Southern hospitality; our mothers taught us not to talk to strangers and it’s the only remnant of propriety we adhere to.

The first available haven is with a business woman, her overstuffed bag plopped down in the legroom of the adjacent space like a hostile takeover, or a “keep out” sign. This is not to be. I move on.

Directly behind is a 40ish man in a suit who has cleared away his briefcase. I make an instant calculation, factoring in the gravitational pull on my parcels against the likelihood of other prospects, and timidly venture: “May I?” “First woman who’s ever sat next to me,” he says.

“Let’s celebrate,” I say, surprised at myself, and releasing my bulging canvas bag with a thud. (The lady in front of us chuckles, sneaking a peek over the top of the seat.)

Well, that went as well as could be expected, I muse, settling in. In the enforced silence of Northern train culture I suddenly think of John 4 and the woman at the well. I think of Jesus the taboo-breaker, striking up a conversation with a person that he shouldn’t in a place that he should not.

Two nuns appear in our compartment now, donning flying buttress headgear. “I haven’t seen veils like that since before the Second Ecumenical Council,” I venture to my seatmate, trying to keep up the momentum, and sending out a probe. “They’re old,” he replies, not revealing much. But I have my wedge into his world.

Before the Fern Rock station we have established a common pedigree: lapsed Catholics. For him, the end of the line; for me, the beginning. He recounts an encounter with people out West who think you have to be “born again.”

I reference John 3:16, elucidating: “Y’know, all those subversive signs you’ve seen in baseball bleachers.” “All kinds of saviors out there these days,” he says. “Before you know it, you’re drinking Kool-Aid laced with arsenic.” “That’s why you have to read the Bible,” I urge. “Do you have a Bible?”

The conductor calls out Jenkintown—a kilometer and a tax bracket away from the next stop, mine. And as the man in the suit smiles and disembarks, I hope some gospel seed has fallen that, God willing, on another train, another time, will get a watering and sprout to life.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Andrée Seu Peterson.

(Photo/Creative Commons, rorowe8)

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