Trains of Thought (Hearing From God)

Meditating on God’s train of thought keeps our emotions from derailing the situation.

Matthew 8:23-27
23 As he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And a great storm developed on the sea so that the waves began to swamp the boat. But he was asleep. 25 So they came and woke him up saying, “Lord, save us! We are about to die!” 26 But he said to them, “Why are you cowardly, you people of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it was dead calm. 27 And the men were amazed and said, “What sort of person is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him!”

Trains of Thought (A companion story)

Steel rails and wooden slats in sets of two. Great monsters roar atop them, spewing steam at the sky, billows of rage powering down tracks, clouds of regret left hanging, idle, shrouding teary-eyed lost lovers in shadows of the past. Forgotten.

A boy sits on a vinyl spread stretched, too thin, over its seat, springs and things poking through where the fabric forgets how to hold its own. Between smears of cigarette grease, this boy places his face—one cheek, then the other—nose so close it looks piggish and squished from the outside: that place of teary eyed lovers and absence.

He squints against his own tear streaks, the wet obscuring what smoke leaves behind. Smokestacks and tear-ducts team up like 3-legged racers swallowing red cheeks and golden hair with finish-line brushstrokes. One final lover’s look. One final—continuous—pang of regret gnawing at his heart strings. Chug, chug: the train laughs its tune, picking up speed. More smoke on the breeze. More blasts of heat from that coal-fired engine, but no flame to kindle the boy’s chilled heart.

Another train takes life, blaring its horn on the track beside—travelling together once, but not forever—two trains with thoughts of their own, destinations of greater differentiation than the steel rails and wood slats creaking beneath them.

The boy thinks his thoughts and sighs his cries. He ponders love lost, but not what is to gain. He travels like smoke, backwards through the air, casting his train of thought into a pool of sludge where nought but despair floats. The new city he sees, peering over train-track rails, is nothing more than the shelled out remains of what once might have been a happy place. It is little different than the place he leaves. Nothing more, but yes different. In this new city, he lacks a lover, lacks a friend.

The streets are silent as his thoughts whisper down alleys, out the other side, clatter broken window slats against charred rock faces. Shafts of shadow memories burn their skin, charcoal streaks of weeping widows. This is the bleak streak future laughing with every tear this boy holds inside, threatening to explode: bomb sobs wracking an already shelled out body.

The boy strokes his cheek with rough hands, keeping waterfalls in the rock-cave of his heart. Then he stands up, brushes memories off like dust, and wallows forward to meet his fate. One train to his left, open fields to the right. No hymns of praise crack the lips of these silent passengers, each imagining fates of their own, each far uglier than tear-soaked smoke clinging to lovers last looks. None bother to say where their thought trains travel, because every passenger knows.

The two trains travel together, wood slats clattering beneath their feet. One train is an old creaky house haunting all who enter. The other is the sigh of second-floor boards in familiar places. Both creak—one threatening to break with each wind’s whisper, the other a home with laughter floorboards, joy siding and shingles of love to keep off life’s storms.

The boy looks from windows right to left, escaping empty field reminders of his lonely heart’s companion. The shadow train glitters out left-side windows, the sun kissing engine sides, steel rivets hot with hope. Rays stream through the billowing smoke out its top stack, burning away sorrow as it escapes. The right hand train of boy passenger is cast in shadow by this same sun, colours dull and faded, joints rusted, travellers weary with the weight of their own thoughts.

Ladies left are caught through windows, laughing, gentlemen plucking heart strings. The windows cloak themselves in red curtains pulled back with chords of gold: braided tresses fair. All those passengers without a care or thought on their mind, leaving the rail to its divine design: never a runaway on those steel tracks, wooden slats placed just so. Not so the boy and his fellow thinkers, travelling on this rust-bucket of thoughts, rails leading to despair.

The boy sits, finding an empty seat on which to wait. A man lazes beside him, crinkled newspaper in hand, lopsided hat obscuring bald patches. The edges of the paper curl like soldiers raising their white flag stained with the ink of fallen comrades, too tired to hold up. Then, with a smart snap, the paper pulls a salute from some forgotten footnote. The man lets out a curse.

The boy looks over, article headline popping from the page like furrowed brow wrinkle. The boy can read, but cares not to. Just another complaint in black and white. This train of thoughts in full of them, one problem heaped on another until every passenger is a suspect in all unspoken crimes. All wars are neighbour caused, and bombs launch with perceived terrorist trajectory.

Up ahead, a woman gets from seat to feet and starts to yell as if the old man’s complaint is a signal for silence to not only break, but shatter. She squeezes worry into every wood slat between these rails, speaking of daughters coming home late, pregnancy to follow: chugging this train of thought downhill, off the rails, no God to keep it there.

Some passengers shout, others cry, but some (like the boy) remain silent. Still. The train is a mess of cacophonous groaning, rage, worry, sorrow, the rail beneath breaking apart in every direction, except straight ahead. Windows start to shake, clattering, chattering teeth with fear. The steel rails rust and break beneath the weight of so many thoughts. Like a heart ripped in two, forced to choose between one lover and another—no, 100 lovers, all with their own calls. One track after another spreads in the distance, each with their own control switch, ghostly foreshadows of the destruction every passenger sees… except the silent ones. The silent passengers sit amidst emotion’s destruction, feel the weight of so many thought trains running off rails—out of control.

The boy is silent, knowing that his train leads to destruction, seeing the rail-switch up ahead. The passengers seen out left window flaunt their care-free travel, every whispered word and loud laughter promising a finer fate.

The boy sends his thought train to the other track, querying the passengers there. He asks how they can be so free, so alive. Both trains travel from the same shelled-out home, both spilling sorrow’s smoke into the sky with every chug, chug, chug. In the air, those smoke signals mingle, and the boy hears his reply. “The train follows the rails.”

He pulls at the thoughts through a smokey haze, fighting the piercing sun-rays. The train beneath him shakes even harder, threatening to explode into thousands of shell shards, nothing but a final puff of mushroom smoke from a stack of destruction. The passengers lead this train of thoughts through maddened worry, chattering fear, not caring for the rails beneath. The set of steel beams stretches ever silent, ever steady, wooden slats quaking as the train lifts off, no longer able to hold its own.

A woman up ahead screams again, mourning the loss of life’s stability. She cries for her daughter, for where her train of thought takes her. The man beside droops his hat and snaps the paper again, cursing the government, cursing the world, damning everyone but himself. Meanwhile his train of thoughts in running off rails, searching for hope in all the empty fields beyond, but finding no gold in those grains of grass.
Every passenger rides their own thoughts, directing the engine conductor to flip the switch, turn down the unknown path that has long since been abandoned, while the train to their left, the glistening one, stays true to its rails, trusting the God of its design. Oh yes, the boards beneath still creak and clatter. Oh yes, sometimes the smoke is so thick that the sun-rays struggle to beat back sorrow. But that smoke of worry, thoughts of fear are all just blown out steam, burned up in a coal-fired engine. The rails stretch forth, always knowing where they are going.

The train of thoughts derails. Creaks to a halt in the empty field, sorrow spilling in ink between grass blades. Only the silent passengers are quiet enough to hear a mirrored creak of brakes in the distance, wheels sliding on rails. A horn blares through a smoke haze and sun rays followed by the distant promise of, “All aboard!”

The boy gets up, dusts off his thoughts. The grass sways like careless clouds beneath his feet. Wood slats clatter as he climbs over one set of rails—one steel beam, then the other. A man in conductor’s hat ushers him in, every step forward a troubled thought lost. A rush of joy fills him as metal steps clank beneath his climb into the only train left, the one directed by rails of deity’s design. A man touches his shoulder, not afraid to show his bald spots. Hair wisps in a broken comb-over, many years of thinning thoughts. His accent comes out thick, carefree. “No worries, lad. This one here, she never derails.”

The boy sits on a vinyl spread stretched, too thin, over its seat, but none worry about the springs and things poking through where the fabric forgets how to hold its own. Between smears of cigarette grease, this boy places his face—one cheek, then the other—nose so close it looks piggish and squished from the outside. Through the screen he spots sun rays bouncing off of his train of thoughts. Stopped. This new train jerks forward. Picks up speed, taking him wherever God might lead. Those tracks of deity’s design rush over broken wooden slats, creaks lost beneath the laughter floorboards and joy siding. God’s voice shouts from the blared horn leaving thoughts of all else behind. God’s train of thoughts never derails.

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