Rush hour on the subway is, at best, a crowded affair. Throw in a Red Sox game come summer or a snowstorm in the winter, and crowded becomes crushed.
Such was the scene post-midweek whiteout one day earlier this year. No one wanted to be on the roads, and normal passenger loads seemed to have doubled. There we were, stuck together like Popsicles with freezer burn - frosty, with frigid attitudes to match. No one wanted to be on the roads, but no one wanted to be commuting via the subway with all this subway traffic, either.
It was in the middle of this mayhem that I found myself - struggling under the weight of two grocery bags and with absolutely nowhere to put them. Even if there had been floor space, everything was a soaking, sodden mess of melting snow. My paper bags wouldn't have stood a chance. The problem was, with no available seats and no free hand to hang on, I wasn't in a much better position than the bags.
It was such a little crisis, but I've learned that no problem is too insignificant for prayer. I like to think of prayer, not as a way to change a situation, but as a way to exchange my limited perspective for God's view of what's going on. Because God is good, His view includes nothing but goodness. It reveals peace in place of tumult, solutions where there seems only an impasse.
Mary Baker Eddy, who was used to turning to God about the minutiae herself - and who saw the profound effects of this turning - explained it this way: "Prayer cannot change the Science of being, but it tends to bring us into harmony with it" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 2).
Some might call the effects she was talking about grace. Divine love bestowed freely. An expression of God's favor. For a long time I'd resisted the idea of grace, though, because I felt it contradicted what I'd seen to be true in my own life. That God doesn't just bestow love, He is Love. That Love is ever present, always operative. That, as God's beloved children, there could never be an instant when we're outside God's favor.
I guess it came down to the fact that for me, grace signaled special intervention. As though there could be some moment when Love ceased to be Love. As though God could leave His children to fend for themselves - and then have to hurry up and intercede to prevent further disaster.
But in that moment of prayer, I suddenly remembered a definition of grace which, as a dancer, I'd loved the instant I read it. It's the grace that becomes graceful. Grace, meaning seemingly effortless beauty of movement.
That was the grace at work here now, I saw. The grace that reveals the perfect workings of a balanced, beautiful creation. The effortless movement of Love to harmonize and deftly orchestrate. It was grace: the brilliant, ongoing activity of the Divine. Love simply being Love.
"The miracle of grace," wrote Mrs. Eddy, "is no miracle to Love." That statement falls in the same paragraph that ends with the promise of "the unbroken reality of scientific being" (Science and Health, page 494). And that's what I was catching a glimpse of during my seemingly off-kilter commute: that the effect of grace wasn't to stitch together the fabric of a world full of rents and tears, but to reveal Love's universe of ideas moving as one seamless whole.
At that moment, I lost all concern about what would happen next. Whether it be an empty seat or clear, clean floor space - it didn't matter. I smiled to think of God's infinite creativity manifested as grace. And as I did, the woman sitting on the aisle suggested I set one of my bags on her lap. "It won't bother me at all," she said, reassuringly. "Really."
I thanked her profusely as I settled half my groceries on top of her stack of legal pads. Yet it wasn't so much the solution to my problem that I was grateful for as I rode the last 20 minutes home. Sure, I'd seen Love expressed in a way that met my need. But the beauty of it all had been her smile as she clutched my brimming bag. We'd both been blessed.
Two hearts, effortlessly moved, I thought, smiling again myself. It could mean only one thing. Forget commuter chaos. In its place I'd found it: grace.