Some of the most spiritual moments for me happen on the “L”. Maybe because the eternally spotty online connection on the train forces me – for a few minutes, at least – to pay attention to something besides my Twitter feed.
Most of the time these holy experiences are little things. I notice the way a man is holding his face in his hands and wonder what’s going in his life and I feel a discernible nudge to say a silent prayer for him.
Or I laugh out loud at a paragraph in a David Sedaris essay and a woman asks what I’m reading. I tell her and she laughs, too.
Or I’m sitting in an extremely smelly seat, it’s wet and moldy and the guy next to me is eating a salmon and onion bagel. It’s uncomfortable, but an old woman opens her purse, takes out a bottle of lotion, and rubs it into her tired hands and in so doing fills the space with a wonderful lavender scent. And I say: thank you God.
Sometimes the experiences render me speechless and make me think differently about life. A couple summers ago I was sitting in the catacombs of the city, waiting on the Red Line train downtown. I’d finished the first meeting of the morning and was on my way north for the next one, and I sat there forever, on a bench in the hot tunnel, waiting.
A man walked down the stairs, disheveled, a few plastic bags on his arms, and I heard him say to himself, “It’s so hot down here. Why is it so hot down here?” He was walking down the tunnel in my direction, and I was praying: “Please, please, please don’t sit by me. I don’t want to talk.”
Of course he sits by me. He says hello. I say hello. He says, “Are you on your way to work or on your way home from work already?” I respond, “I’m actually between things right now,” and he says, visibly relieved, “Oh, me too, me too. It’s so hard, isn’t it? I mean, sometimes I deliver pizzas in Rogers Park for some money, but I don’t have work now either. If you want, I could put in a good word for you at the pizza place? Maybe they need someone else.”
This was a spiritual experience of an entirely different order. I sensed God talking right to me, out of God’s poverty, regarding me as a human being with dignity and actually giving a damn about how it was going for me.
We all have our shadow sides, and part of mine is that I can live too much inside my own head. I dwell there and worry there and try to fix and control everything there. But when I can get outside of myself, or when something else gets me outside of myself, I am every so often met with something better than I could ever expect or imagine or manage: the extraordinarily ordinary presence of God.
Mantra/prayer: God, show me beauty in unexpected places.