Thursday, June 01, 2006
"Well, you know how there's sex, right?"
The train ride was long (7 hours). The belligerent man sitting in front of me didn’t help matters. Did he need to tell the train attendant she was so fat that she weighed more than his luggage? Then there was the engine dying, cutting off all electricity and therefore air to the trains cabins.
Mr. Belligerent exclaimed loud enough for everyone to hear, “This is the train ride to hell!” Other passengers and I silently exchanged looks of incredulity. I thought, “If I’d taken a plane I’d be home by now.”
But I hadn't taken a plane. At the last second, I decided to save $42.00 and took the train instead. It just felt like the missionary thing to do. I imagined Blessed Mother Theresa nodding in approval of my frugal ways. I mean, my shirt does say, “Missionary of the Eucharist.” Missionaries do things like sleep on floors, walk across countries, and pray, pray, pray. To a missionary $42.00 is a lot of Rosaries than can be handed out to people on the street. It’s $42.00’s worth of First Nine Month pamphlets that can be handed out to women contemplating abortion.
The magnitude of difference in the course of humanity that $42.00 can propel is difficult to contemplate. So I don’t contemplate it. I leave the how’s and why’s to God; myself simply praying that Thy Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
My attachment to the world prevents me from all out embracing poverty. In the train station I betrayed my t-shirt and bought a magazine, and a piece of chocolate.
“Have pillow, will travel.” It’s one of the mantra’s I find circling my mind. Sure, train seats aren’t what one would call sanitary; but I hardly noticed as I curled up and slept like a little kid. A tap on my ankle alerted me to a train attendant seeking my ticket to punch a hole in. Where was I? Delaware? New Jersey? I looked out at the landscape of grass and trees. My location was undeterminable but my destination was assured; I was going home.
Resumes don’t send themselves. As seemingly pious being a full-out missionary may appear, I’ve come to realize that taking care of our personal responsibilities is not only pleasing to God, it is our responsibility. I have been given the gift of a formal academic education. Serving God through teaching band instruments may not be what people picture when they think of noble vocations, but it’s mine and I take it seriously.
On the train I took out a book on the life and influence of Alfred Kinsey. Basically, Kinsey was a zoologist that started studying the sexual habits of humans. His research has culminated as the source of information that has lead to the current sex-education programs in public schools as well as many legal policies regarding what is considered sexual norms versus sexual deviance in the U.S.
The problem is, the people Kinsey studied were known sexual predators, prostitutes, and inmates in jails. The validity of the raw data of his research has been extensively argued against. The book notes, “Even the a distinguished British medical journal The Lancet warned the public that Kinsey had “questioned an unrepresentative proportion of prison inmates and sex offenders in a survey of normal sexual behavior.”
The guy who was sitting diagonally across from me was clearly trying to look at the title of the book. Casually, without looking like I was trying, I positioned the book so he could read the full title: “The Kinsey Corruption: An Expose On the Most Influential ‘Scientist’ Of Our Time” by Susan Brinkmann.
I eventually took out another book, this one titled “Learn Spanish In Twenty-Lessons.” The guy spied on that book title as well. I leaned over and told him, “I’m trying to learn Spanish because I’m walking from Maine to D.C. and Spanish will be handy.”
Haha, that definitely was not what he thought I was going to say. Mr. Belligerent was glaring at us for talking. It was the official quiet section of the train and Mr. Belligerent had already taken it upon himself to chastise a woman for quietly answering her cell phone. The book-spying guy grabbed his stuff and came over to the seat beside me.
“So explain to me what you’re doing.” He inquired.
“Well, I’m part of a group of twelve college age students called the Missionaries of the Eucharist. The express purpose of this summer’s walk is to bring Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body to the streets.”
He looked at me as if I’d just spoken in Swahili. Great.
“What is the Theology of the Body?” he prompted.
“It’s the explanation of God’s design for human sexuality.”
“Hmm… so tell me what the main points are.”
Brain to Elizabeth, Brain to Elizabeth: Use your words, girl.
I pictured Christ on the Cross. I pictured Mary at the foot of the Cross. Giving. Receiving. The differences between man and woman allow us able to come into complete union. It took Pope John Paul II 500 pages to tell us the TOB and theologians have taken hundreds more pages to break it down for us. What was I thinking by putting myself in situations where I’d have to summarize it in 5-second sound bites? How I wished I could just state that the Theology of the Body is the antidote to the culture of death and the theological expression for the new evangelization. I had a feeling I was to be a little more specific.
“Well, you know how there’s sex, right?”
He nodded. Great. Nothing like common ground.
“There’s this idea that sex is just about…well, all people think of when they think of good sex is the orgasm aspect. The point of the Theology of the Body is that there’s so much more to it.”
“Like bonding and babies. The marital union, so to speak, is a way of bonding, and if you give yourself completely to another person, you are open to a baby. One of the points that we want to make this summer is that if you use contraception, it’s like saying that you reject part of your spouse since you reject their fertility. You can’t bond if you’re not open to life because fertility is part of who we all are. Also, if you are just out to get a baby and aren’t interested in bonding, you are only coveting your spouses fertility and not embracing them totally; that too is not bonding.
I thought quickly. I knew I was doing a horrible job. I’d made sex sound boring. Like great, now we’re bonded and now we have a gazillion kids. Yippie.
“Think about it…if you are totally giving of yourself and your wife is totally giving of herself, you’ll both be completed satisfied sexually. Women, by anatomy are natural receivers and likewise men are natural givers; taking it further though, in giving you receive and in receiving you give. At first it may seem like we’re trying to put sex into some sort of box of meaning, but really, we’re embracing the totality of sex it all of it’s goodness. It’s not a prude message, it’s an message upholding the beauty of sex and all of its wonders.”
“Wow, well good luck with your message. I’m Paul by the way.”
We shook hands, “Hi, I’m Elizabeth.”
I asked him, “So what are you on this train, Paul?”
“I was interviewing for a job that will take place in Northern Ireland. The job is to use basketball as a way of bringing Catholic and Protestant kids together.”
“Oh wow. What’s going on there?”
“There’s complete segregation. Catholics and Protestant neighborhoods have their own schools even. The kids are growing up in an environment that fosters mindless discrimination. Just playing basketball together has proven to break down so many social barriers.”
We talked about the politics of Northern Ireland. We talked about what it means to be conservative and liberal in the U.S. He recited the Bill of Rights. I bragged that I keep a copy of the U.S. Constitution with me at all times.
The conversation digressed. We talked about expensive parking meters on college campuses and how binge drinking loses it’s glamour as you get older. We even talked about The Da Vinci Code. (Him: “It’s Fiction.” Me: “It’s crap.”) We talked about how it was so opportune to use our early twenties to skip town and in our own small ways give what we have- even if it’s just our time, even if it’s basketball to kids.
I threw into the conversation that my friends and I pray outside of abortion mills. The second I said it I clarified, “Abortion clinics.”
“Mills” is word people use after seeing women exit, with wombs empty. It’s a word you use after you’ve seen the bio-hazard truck pull up to Planned Parenthood to retrieve the “products of conception.” The positive connotation of “clinic” sounds ridiculous next to the word “abortion.” But to those who don’t know, it’s the person who uses the word “mill” who sounds ridiculous. I know this and so I conform my vocabulary.
Paul wasn’t sure what to say when I threw abortion into the dialog. I qualified the statement by adding, “It may sound crazy to pray outside abortion clinics, but when you experience girls turning around and going down the street to a real crisis pregnancy center, you stop caring that the world thinks you’re crazy. The media and movies have done a real number on the image of pro-lifers. In fact, people we talk to on the street are shocked to discover that we’re college educated. There’s a pervasive assumption that pro-lifers are profoundly ignorant.”
“Yeah, when I saw you I thought you were in high school.”
The train rolled into Paul’s stop. We shook hand and wished each other good-luck. Later on I questioned if I’d done enough service to the Theology of the Body message. There were so many good things I could have said that I’d forgotten to say. I couldn’t help but be down on myself for not being missionary of the year.
But that’s the point, isn’t it? Missionaries perhaps by definition are not experts. They simply go forth with a message. And even if at times it is imperfectly communicated, there is something to be said for the growth that takes place in learning how to articulate the mysteries of Truth.
So there you have it; I boarded a train to journey in search of job, Paul boarded a train to journey in search of a job. What a scene it was, he, 23, in his expensive suit and laptop computer and me, 24, in my shapeless blue t-shirt and draping brown scapular. We shared an hour of our lives as we made our way between two points on earth, our convergence of ideas communicated in hushed tones in the quiet section of the train.
Late that night I arrived home, took note that my car in the driveway had a flat tire, and finally headed for bed. In the morning, I had a job to find.
Who we are?
Conversion begins in our own hearts,which is why prayer is so important to our ministry. For this reason, everyday of our ten week walk begins with daily Mass. By receiving Christ in the Eucharist, we are given the grace to be the Love of Christ not only to those in our community but also to those we meet in the streets.
We walk throughout the day to be a witness of love. We are grounded in prayer-we pray with our lips, our hearts, and our bodies. In walking an average of twenty-five miles per day, we offer our fatigue as a gift of love to Christ and the people we meet. Our walking is both sacrifice and prayer.