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When God Shows Up on the Subway

Stuck on the tracks during an unsettling delay, the prayers, the compassion, the connection all come to life.

When God shows up on the subway
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Stuck on a New York City subway train that’s lost its power in the middle of Covid-19 time? Sounds like a recipe for high anxiety and total meltdown. But stick with me. It might also be a chance to feel God’s comforting presence.

Haven’t been on the subway much lately. Working remotely because of the pandemic. But ever since I wrote a book called Finding God on the A Train (part of a special Guideposts book series, Prayer Works), I’ve made no secret about how I used my commute time on the subway to pray. On a crowded, noisy train? Sure. When you pick your prayer closet, you make it work.

I also have a quiet meditational time on the sofa at home in the mornings. Tuning out to tune in. But I’ve missed that train time. Yesterday I had a doctor’s appointment to get a Covid test—a place that promised a quick turnaround. We’re doing a family reunion next week, and we want to make sure we’re all well.

I took the subway there from our place in Upper Manhattan. The test turned out negative—Amen to that—then I took the A train home. 

Mind you, everybody in my neighborhood is being very careful these days. We’ve been through the worst. Tragic losses in the early weeks of the pandemic. No one wants a repeat of that. In the car I got into, everybody was wearing a mask, and we all sat at least six feet apart. Reading, looking at our phones or in my case, doing some silent praying.

Somewhere deep underground between 145th and 168th Street, the train came to a sudden halt and the lights dimmed. “We’ve lost power,” the driver said.

There’d been an accident. Someone had fallen onto the tracks from the train going the other direction. The power had to be shut off for the rescue operation. As the story unfolded, you could feel the change of atmosphere in the train, this group of strangers pulling together, feeling the pain of the moment, compassion and sorrow.

Were we scared? Yes, of course. I’d just tested negative for a scary virus and was I now in a situation that made me more vulnerable to catching it? How long would we be here? There was some talk that we’d have to walk through the entire train to get off. Lord, no, please not that.

In other times it might have seemed like a bit of an adventure. Not now.             

One guy got up and opened the windows, attempting to give us more air. One woman stood up and announced that she was an internist and would be glad to help anyone suffering. The conductor came through, and she told him to let her know if any passengers needed help.       

Time went on. We chatted amongst ourselves, putting each other at ease. I was reminded of that feature of New York that I’ve always loved, the Big City that can turn itself into a caring small town at a moment’s notice. Even the conductor, when he came through the car explaining the tragic situation, asked us for prayer.            

Finally, after an hour, the driver lifted the brakes, the lights came back up, the power rumbled again through the train, one of those noises that I’d always found comforting, even more now. Slowly we pulled ahead, rumbling to the next station where I got off.   

One of the questions I hear repeatedly these days: When will things get back to normal? The incident made me want to reframe that question. How can we forget that as much as it’s natural for us to succumb to our fears, it’s as common for You, God, to be right there at hand, in community, in kindness, in strangers reaching out, in prayer.

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