A Thing to be Grasped


The MBTA Number 1 bus plods its way down Massachusetts Avenue all the way to Dudley Square Station. Traveling on this bus is not for the faint of heart, the city hater, or the one who likes order. Along the way it picks up everyone from world-class musicians heading to Berklee College of Music, to the chronically ill, on their way to Boston Medical Center, to the Back Bay city dweller, ready to spend an evening at the symphony.

And the trip is never without a story. It’s a cross spectrum of humanity, all meeting in this enclosed space. As I travel on the Number 1 bus, I am struck by how important it is to see humanity in this way.

The Number 1 bus is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t matter how rich, how poor, how smart you are. You’re just another one of us, crowded in to a space where 10 different languages are spoken. Every age group is represented from teen moms with babies to old Haitian grandmothers, and every shade of skin color from pale white with freckles to deep brown with dark eyes.

Periodically fights erupt and someone comes forward as peacemaker. At other times a person’s behavior strikes everyone as so comical that there is muffled laughter and nods of understanding.

I don’t pretend to know the mind of Christ, but I think he would like this bus. I think he would use this bus to engage people and dig into their current reality, to heal the sick, to open the eyes of the blind, to change the bigoted, to encourage the teen mom. He would move over and give his seat to the man struggling to stand, would help the woman lift her heavy bags of oranges off the floor.

I think he would see this as a microcosm of the world, in language, color, and brokenness. His eyes, alight with compassion, would be always looking for a way to help. 

When I’m riding the bus the verse that comes to mind is from the book of Philippians where Paul is urging the church to “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself”.*

I’m struck by how often I’m struggling to grasp for equality, better still struggling to be ‘greater than’. And this fighting to be equal or more? It is exhausting. Yet I’m told with surety that Christ Jesus did not do this. He ‘emptied’ himself.

There is something about this Number 1 bus that helps me empty myself. In that sweaty, enclosed space – too hot in winter from stifling heat and too cold in summer from artificial air conditioning — I understand that I am just one of millions in this world, no better, no stronger, no greater. Just one of the millions that needs the light of Christ and the hope of a Gospel message.

Just one on the Number 1 bus, that needs Jesus, his eyes alight with compassion, always ready to help. 

*Philippians 2:5-7a

8 thoughts on “A Thing to be Grasped

  1. I’ve ridden the 1 Bus once – to visit one of the aforementioned world class Berkley musicians and eat what became an award wining meal made by his lovely wife. I have to admit that I did fall in to, as Cathy quoted, “seeing the world not as it is, but as I am” – an uptight, white, country boy in the city. For all the years I’ve worked in town, ridden the T, and walked the streets, I still do it somewhat on guard. After reading this I think it might be time for another ride on the 1.


    1. I love this Bruce – both for the story and for your honesty about the city. For the first year that we lived hear I totally avoided the Number 1 bus. And even then rode it not always willingly. Then about 2 or 3 years ago Cliff and I were on it late at night and it was a crazy, crazy night. That night changed my view of it and since then I actually enjoy it!


  2. True story: Several years ago I was commuting regularly by bus – same bus, same time every day. It didn’t take me long to discover that the front section of the bus (where the benches face each other) was occupied by a unique group of commuters who spent the time chatting, discussing life, etc etc. It turned out one of the regular riders (Dave) was a former Episcopal priest who had decided to make this bus his outreach venue. He basically turned that bus into an informal small group with everything but the praying… It was amazing. [Years later, Dave is retired, I’m not working on a bus line any more, but Dave is volunteering in my office :) ]


    1. I want to meet this man! What a great idea. The number one bus would be a great venue. I’ve heard in India that people do Alpha groups on train ride commutes.Perfect time.


  3. As a frequent bus traveller (we ancient people can travel free in England after 9.30 a.m.), I too am constantly amazed at the cross section of humanity encountered on a bus. Here in Tunbridge Wells those who use the bus are usually the elderly, teenage schoolchildren on their way to and from school, young Mums with buggies and those who are too poor to have a car. Sometimes I wish the person next to me had better personal hygiene, would stop moaning about our amazing health service or would engage more with her child than with her cell phone.

    But travelling on the bus, I hope, makes me more compassionate and mindful of how many there are who are less fortunate than I. Once, on my way to my hospital visits, a lady got on who needed two walking sticks – she had an out-patient appointment that morning and no other way to get there. Her husband, a cancer patient, she had left at home. She was completely uncomplaining and cheerful.

    It’s good to know how the other half live,and I feel sure Jesus would take the bus. In the meantime we bus travellers have to His ambassadors there.


    1. I love this – any kind of public transportation I think can force us into spaces that help define character. There are days where I shake my head in dismay but more and more I appreciate the reminders of what we share as fellow men and women living on this earth.


  4. Beautiful, Marilyn. One of your best . . . How I love seeing the world and faith through your eyes. Remember that quote from the Talmud we have used? “We see the world not as it is, but as WE are.” In this post, not only do I see what you see, but I appreciate your musing on how Christ may have seen the No. 1 bus. Thanks!


    1. Thank you for these lovely words. I love that quote from the Talmud. I was thinking about that one as well as the one on our first spontaneous response to difference. I actually have a post started on that one. Miss you.


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