by Malaena Nahmias
“Jesus-us-us, Jesus-us.” As the train shimmies and shrieks, roaring through the tunnel, I hear someone singing down at the other end, singing so sweetly . . . “Jesus-us, Jesus-us.” Two people sitting near me slide their eyes sideways in a nonchalant peek down the subway car to the black man who is slowly walking this way. I pull my suitcase in closer to me and reposition my purse out of sight under my arm. He sings again . . . “Jesus-us-us.”
Most people don’t seem to notice or care, plugged in as they are to an array of electronics, foreign-language newspapers and their own mysterious inner world. However, I turn my head to see this next public display. I haven’t yet cultivated the required blasé response for which New Yorkers are known. These routine outbursts of humanity seem to happen often when I’m in New York City attending an interfaith seminary program and they make good stories when I’m back home in suburban Massachusetts.
He is singing so lovely and lovingly. He touches his heart with one hand and clutches what I assume is his Bible in the other. He stops and looks . . . really looks at each person sitting, even though they don’t look back. He begins to speak. No, not speak, but preach.
“Jesus loves you,” he says. He points to the open Bible. “It says in the Bible, we are to make a joyful noise. Join me, sing with me, Jesus-us-us, Jesus-us. Someone didn’t wake up today! But, you woke up this morning. You got out of bed. Sing in praise! Jesus-us. Someone has no legs and cannot walk. You can walk. Amen. You can see. Give thanks. Sing with me, Jesus-us-us! Make a joyful noise! Thank you Jesus! Thank you Jesus, for my eyes and for my arms. Jesus loves us all. He has so much love for us. He loves the blacks and he loves the whites. He loves us all. Sing with me and give thanks to Jesus-us-us!”
No one sings. No one moves. No one looks. No one hears. Or do they? He is full of passion, full of love; not only for Jesus, but for all of us. I can feel it. Surprising myself, I realize that I want to sing with him, to raise my voice with him in thanksgiving! It pains me to withhold my song, but I’m not going to break the code of silence. There is a welling up inside me and I am close to tears . . . tears of awe and grace and holy connection . . . tears of thanks, for my eyes that can see and my legs that can walk . . . tears of thanks for this moment . . . for this man and for this day made new because of him.
He is closer to me now. I look at him and smile. Expecting a Styrofoam cup to be shaken in front of my face, I glance away from his raptured face to his hands and see only the well-worn Bible. No alms begged in exchange for his sermon, he asks for nothing for himself. At the same time, he asks for everything. This is his ministry! The subway riders are his captive and wary congregation. And I’ve just been saved between stations! How’s that for mass transit service?!
As he passes where I am sitting, he smiles at me with his eyes as well as his mouth. With a nod of his head, he says, “Bless you.” The train pulls into the next station and as he joyfully sails out of the open subway door with his coattails flying, he turns, touches his heart and blows me a kiss. The doors close, and the train starts moving, but I can still hear him as he strides on singing, “Jesus-us-us.”
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