Subway Prayers

Soldier's Legs and Boots --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Last week I had a surprisingly intense experience. I was riding the 2 train from Harlem, and a young man got on the train. He was wearing army fatigues from collar to boots and had a giant 3 foot high green army bag packed and resting on the floor of the train. He stared straight ahead, avoiding the looks of every other passenger, including myself. He was a very young black man–without the uniform, I would have guessed he was 15 years old.

While I have seen men and women in uniform many times in the city, I had a really strong reaction to this man. I think it was partly just how young he was. He must have been just out of school, heading out from my neighborhood in Harlem to his first experience of training.But what struck me most about my standing so close to him was that I realized in that moment: I had forgotten. I had forgotten that we are at war.

With all the things going on in my life, with all the things in the news to be devastated about, with Memorial Day and Veterans Day both months away, it had simply slipped my mind that young boys and girls, men and women, are being sent out to hold and shoot weapons, to risk their physical and mental and spiritual health, to be hurt and changed in unpredictable and irreversible ways. All in the name of my safety and prosperity. All while I go about my daily activities so far removed from war that I had forgotten about it completely.

He got off at 34th St, probably heading to a train at Penn Station to some military base down south. I found myself praying for him the entire subway ride.

I remember soon after I arrived at Church of the Village, we had a class on prayer practices, and I shared how meaningful it was to me to pray for people on the subway. I used to just pick someone around me and pray for them. I remember a number of people really liked my suggestion and started praying for people on the subway too. Well, in the last year, I haven’t been doing this much at all. I just forget or I get caught up my podcasts or my Sudoku game or some other method of distracting myself until I get to where I really want to be.

I have forgotten the spiritual richness of just being a New Yorker. The privilege of sitting on a subway train that looks like the kin-dom of God. I have forgotten just how sacred every person around me is and how much God loves and cares for each of them. That each person on the subway has a whole life, a whole story, a whole set of experiences and loved ones and scars that I don’t have the slightest understanding of. Some of them are even going off to war.

That young soldier last week inspired me to be a litte more aware of the life teeming around me, to be a little more aware of the ways my life intersects with others’ and with the fates of nations and men and women in far away places. To be a little more aware of the sacred creations of God that live and walk and ride close to me everyday. And to pray a little more for the strangers who make up my community and who are my sisters and brothers in this city I call home.

Today, I invite you to pray for a stranger you see in the city.

And this morning, I want to pray Psalm 91 for that young soldier I saw. I pray it also for all God’s beloved children, friends and enemies, who are caught up in conflicts around the world.

1You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,

2will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”

3For she will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;

4he will cover you with his pinions, and under her wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

5You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day,

6or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

7A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.

8You will only look with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.

9Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place,

10no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.

11For she will command her angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

12On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.

13You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

14Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.

15When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.

16With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

Psalm 91