The Paris Gare de Lyon station was bustling on a Tuesday morning. We were told it was because of the holiday. “Ascension Day,” the ticket clerk said. Huh. According to the liturgical calendar recognized by most of the free world, Ascension Day was on a Thursday, six days earlier. (I know stuff like this now). “And you better get your return ticket today, because all the returns next weekend are selling out, too.” I stared blankly. “Pentecost,” she explained. I tried to imagine going into any workplace in America — a nation where there are more than twice as many churchgoers as there are in France — and saying you’d be taking a six-day weekend to celebrate the Ascension and, if the Spirit moved you, might just be gone straight through til Pentecost.
“And there are only a few seats left on Monday, as well,” the ticket clerk warned. I leaned forward in an effort to comprehend. “Whit Monday,” she said.
“Naturellement,” I smiled.
The train was packed with young families, students, older couples. A young father helped us load in our suitcases, redeeming the entire male population of France. We settled into our assigned seats, a grouping of four. There was only one person opposite us, a large, scowling, gypsy of a woman, who grunted and buried her head in a paperback as we settled in. The club car was right behind us and we could hear the merry voices of the young vacationers. I pulled out my travel Bible. I had promised my aunt I would give her some guidance as to how to navigate the sometimes daunting book before we got to Taize. Although she’d been baptized and confirmed, run a pre-school program at an Episcopal Church, and maintained a childlike faith her whole life, she had never read The Bible or done any sort of Bible study. This was not uncommon for women of her generation, who were merely asked to make sure the family was dressed nicely for church and didn’t do anything scandalous.
“Ok,” I said, “Lesson one.” I proceeded to measure out 3/4 of the pages between my thumb and index finger like a fat steak. “This is all the Old Testament.” My aunt went wide eyed. The woman across from us harrumphed. “Jesus doesn’t even come onto the scene til the very end.” I adjusted my grip to pinch the final sliver of pages like found treasure. “This, here, is the Gospel of the Lord.”
Suddenly the woman across from us lurched forward and glared at me. “Can’t you just stop talking and read a book!”
I suppose I was meant to be intimidated, to feel guilty that we, in our quiet chat, had somehow been more intrusive than the rowdy partyers spilling into the aisle “drunk with new wine.” (Acts 2:13). I was not.
“We’re going to be talking for a little while longer,” I informed her calmly. Returning my attention to the subject at hand, I split the pages right down the center and continued. “Now, right smack dab in the middle of the Bible, you’ll find the Psalms, the bridge to the Judeo-Christian tradition…..”