This past Sunday the Seattle Times carried a feature story entitled “The World’s First Floating Bridge with a Train.” Mike Lindblom’s piece focused on the engineering feat confronting Sound Transit to place light rail tracks on the I-90 floating bridge to support mega-heavy trains. Think of it: these trains must travel 55 miles per hour on tracks that are mounted on huge pontoons floating on the turbulent waters of Lake Washington. Lindblom wrote: “The technical challenges are daunting. Engineers have to ensure the bridge will remain buoyant when a pair of 300-ton trains pass each other, and that the high voltage current that powers the trains won’t stray into the bridge’s pontoons and corrode its steel rebar … “ Further, the trickiest part of the project consists of connecting tracks on the “hinges” of the bridge’s expansion joints. “Light rail trains must cross hinges at the I-90 expansion joints, where the fixed road spans onshore meet the sloped transition spans, which then meet the floating decks. Lake levels change seasonally, while traffic, wind, and waves cause slight twisting sideways …” Essentially, the train tracks have to remain stable and secure—moving neither side-to-side nor up-and-down—while somehow “riding” on the very unpredictable and always moving pontoons that support them. Engineers have developed solutions from earthquake technology used on skyscrapers to design the expansion joints that will allow trains moving at top speed to cross the floating cauldron on time while passengers never spill a drop of their coffee.
Reading this description of this engineering marvel got me to thinking of the Holy Spirit’s marvelous work of taking sinful human beings and transforming them according to Christ’s nature. There are four dimensions to our individual and corporate existence: (1) the organic, bodily dimension; (2) the psychological, inner dimension; (3) the social, interpersonal dimension; and (4) the cultural, meaning-generating dimension. These dimensions of our existence connect us to the world, to one another, to our society, and to ultimate reality. Each of these dimensions is an important aspect of our embodied spiritual nature. And, if we believe Scripture and our own experience, each of these dimensions is infected with sin. We try to gain stability and meaning for our lives, and maintain healthy relations with ourselves, with others, and with our environment. But these efforts end up feeling like we are trying to connect stable train tracks on a floating bridge. We find that the “expansion joints” we create for ourselves to navigate life’s rough waters break down or break apart under the pressures of life, creating disjointedness in all our relationships and in ourselves. Thus, instead of enjoying our embodied existence as a glorious gift, we reduce our existence itself into the desperate search for security and satisfaction, an effort that takes out all the joy of really living. And often our hard-driven efforts to secure ourselves “break up” amid the storms of life and we are left empty and without inner resources for the journey. Psychologically we tend to develop hard, defensive shells against others as our egos—our psychic “expansion joints”— go on the alert to rationalize our behavior to our own advantage. Life becomes a constant battle against the defensiveness of others. Socially, we play the roles (our social “expansion joints”) that seem to help us get by without really being known or knowing others or ourselves. And culturally, we attach ourselves rigidly to cultural values that serve our purposes and that give us meaning. Or else we incessantly change the images and values that temporarily give us advantage in our rapidly changing world. Either way, our cultural “expansion joints” prove either too rigid or too unstable to give us the meaning we crave.
The question I want to pose over my next few Carillon articles is: “How do we understand the action of the Holy Spirit to redeem these four dimensions of our existence?” How does the Spirit redeem these relational “expansion joints”? Happy Pentecost!