World War II is over. The 20th Century is about to crest its halfway point. It is a Golden Hour for the railroads in America. The big overnight trains are still running at capacity all across the country.
On any given train, the third cook will light the kitchen fire before dawn and life in the dining car will begin to stir. Soon the rest of the breakfast crew will arrive, and a buzz of activity will blend with the music of wheels. Rhythms will rise from the rails… animating every surface – floor, walls, tables and chairs – with subtle vibrations. The mingled aromas of a wood stove, percolating coffee, and a menu-full of hot breakfasts will lure expectant passengers from their beds.
As they read their newspapers, and engage in their morning conversations, it will feel as though the countryside is speeding backward at 60 miles per hour. The train will seem to be a picture of stillness – as stationary as a rock in the rapids.
Even now, in the age of jets and networks, trains have not abnegated their power entirely. Sit in your car at a railroad crossing, waiting for a freighter to pass and you might feel like you’re the one slipping away sideways!
A train is an insistent presence; it is un-ignorable… A train will flatten any coin placed upon its track – be it penny or peso or pound – silver dollar, gold doubloon or plug nickel. All will be neatly and playfully pulled into circus-mirror ovals, making clowns of the great statesmen of the ages.
A train is a kinetic geography – a locus in motion – like a mountain or a ravine or a stand of cedars, but mobile… a roaring epiphany chugging straight through all of our known landscapes.
And the words of the prophets run through the peaks and valleys of the millennia, promising the arrival of the Incarnation. The moment of God’s en-fleshing rumbles forward from the very roots of creation, its whistle echoing within the stories and songs of every village along the way, and finally emerges into time. Emerging suddenly, as though from the mouth of a tunnel punched through the sheer cliff-wall of heaven – its headlight, Bethlehem’s star …its clatter and din, the angelic chorus of Gloria in excelsis Deo!
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.
The Gospel of Luke 2:13-16