The Gospel of Public Transportation
"... one of the immutable laws of being human is that the people who show up are the right people."
Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
For Brent, God speaks to him through tennis and Roger Federer, for Kelly, she's had divinely inspired experiences at Tom Thumb.
For me, I encounter those God moments via public transportation.
Sure, public transportation is a lot of the things you assume it is – mostly reliable (sometimes not) full of both the people who need to use public transportation and those who do not; a mix of all sorts of people ranging from stressed moms with crying babies trying to get to the doctor on time to stiffly dressed businessmen reviewing their upcoming day's schedule on laptops.
Most days, my rides go swimmingly, I have little to no complaints except for the occasional humanness – someone not giving up a seat for an elderly person, or someone else opening their newspaper a little too wide into my personal space. But more or less, it's okay. Most of these sins are tiny and forgivable; there are not that many offensive behavior sins that I have to pray to God to forgive me for not loving that loud gum-chewing smacker who's sitting way too close to me.
And then there are the days that the train breaks down. Which of course, most often occurs in the middle of the heatwaves of summer.
And usually, during rush hour. And usually these sorts of experiences involve a great deal of prayers to God from my end, for patience and also to help me see in God in other people. Because during these times, that's an enormous challenge.
And recently this experience happened in the middle of a heatwave, during an overly intense and warm day, on a late Friday afternoon when everyone felt the itch of summer tugging at their back and just wanted to get home to celebrate the last remaining bittersweet days of the season.
It's one thing to read a passage about loving your neighbor as they are and seeing all people as God's own children when it's beautiful words on a tissue-paper page of the Bible. It's one thing to say that we are all champions for God, to trust the control and timing of God when we're alone in the morning, cozy on a couch with warm coffee by our side.
It's quite another I've found, to be a quiet champion of Christ and believe there is God in everyone else too, when you are stuck with, at best, an alarming diversity of humankind that is full of a potent mix of anger, impatience, complaints and various degrees of sweating (and a whole slew of other emotions and physical states) on a clear skied Friday afternoon waiting on a broken down train for nearly three hours.
Most people hate this, as well, lack of control. Count me in – I am one of those people too.
I think: Well! This is not how life is supposed to go! The train was supposed to be here at 4:57! I have places to go! Things to do! People to see and complain about! Don't they know I have family to hustle through dinner, bedtime stories to read, and have to deliver a glass of water to a feisty toddler who is mostly sleep-allergic?
And last Friday while waiting, like most times, I started there, with the frustration. Then eventually after I got over myself (and was assured the kids were taken care of) I begin to see this an opportunity to learn patience and lean into God and what He would say to me through this whole experience.
When I eventually calm down and realize it was never within my control anyway, what I've found was golden God moments.
Despite the sweating, despite the swearing, despite the whole complaining lot of us, this was when God showed up and showed His love, even if it was only evident to me. This was when I saw God shining His radiant face for me, all of us really, although it happened to come at the most annoying time, and I really wish God would have picked much better timing.
We tend to forget we are not in control of when God shows up.
Many times, it's when we're already ticked off, have made other plans, and have written God off as appearing in this place, this non-God place that doesn't resemble anything close to a church. We tend to forget that He can really show up wherever He wants as He sort of created it, and well, it's not about the perfect place anyway, but attuning your ear to hear Him and your eyes to pay close attention.
And if you pay attention close enough, He shows up, quite often, in the most unexpected of places.
So last week, during the three hours of waiting and then being pressed in way too tight with humanity that I wasn't even sure I liked, I finally settled on the fact that there is joy and there is peace in these situations if we're calm enough to look for it.
This is a gift, these inconvenient circumstances. And there is so much to see – like the beauty of people working together, which is my favorite part of these train-breakdown experiences that I (looking on the positive side here) have experienced several times in my years riding public transportation.
For me, those God moments are seeing the other moms on the train reassuring that one teary mom that it's going to be okay if you get to daycare late. It's watching the self-elected slightly loud and slightly overbearing camp director person (who seems to be way too bossy for my taste) helping people find their way off the overcrowded train. It's the moments you get to hear the exhausted confession of a loving woman who spends all her evenings visiting a nursing home, going to see her mom and sister in law.
These quiet utterances and the loud yelling; they are all ways of people trying to take care of people. It's a whisper of God in my ear, a vision of how He hopes we work together on a good day.
But I've learned that some days it takes a broken down train for me to see God in others.
Sometimes it takes a broken down train for us to rise to the occasion to try to be kind to others. And while I could do without a long afternoon on a hot, stuffy over-packed train with little room for personal space or thoughts, these are the moments that make me thankful and hopeful for the God gifts disguised in imperfect humanity.
These are God moments that I'm so thankful I get to see.
It's quite another I've found, to be a quiet champion of Christ and believe there is God in everyone else too, when you are stuck with, at best, an alarming diversity of humankind that is full of a potent mix of anger, impatience, complaints and various degrees of sweating (and a whole slew of other emotions and physical states) on a clear skied Friday afternoon waiting on a broken down train for nearly three hours."