Advent is my favorite season at church. I love the songs we sing, both haunting and hopeful; I love the acknowledgement of need and brokenness and how it’s overshadowed by the hope we know is coming in just a few weeks. And I love the brighter things, like the wreath of candles and how young families often are the ones who crowd around and light the week’s flame; and the Advent calendar my mom made for me when I was little, a background of starry sky with a hidden felted cutout for each day of December. (Twenty-some years of this calendar and I still have not memorized the order of the shapes: star? Teddy bear? Angel?) Normally, I am not good at waiting—I am awfully impatient—but the anticipation that builds me toward Christmas is beautiful and buoying and fuzzy.

I am told the worship leaders at my church plan to do “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” every week of Advent. Maybe this will be the year I learn how to wait excitedly for approaching things; maybe even to wait for things I only hope will approach.


Some mornings when the train is too crowded for me to pull out a book, I try to pray during my commute. Inevitably I am distracted by people-watching, or looking out at the skyline when the train rattles across the bridge, or rereading the subway ads. I am antsy on the train. There is too much going on around me. I can’t be silent or introspective. I still try, but it’s a resigned sort of trying.

I tried the day before Thanksgiving. I was late for work. Both the local and express trains pulled away as I ran down the steps. I shouldered my backpack, brushed the rain off my jacket, and stood there antsily as the platform crowded up. I probably can’t hold my backpack and my heavy purse and this giant stalk of Brussels sprouts and my Nook, I realized. I got ready for some quality time with Dr. Zizmor.

But finally the train came, and it wasn’t as full as I had feared (the lateness might have had something to do with that), so I stood and looked out the window and breathed a few times because I had made it and all my stuff had made it too.

It wasn’t until we shuddered to a halt at the next stop that I heard her: strident yelling, distinctive accent and cadences. I try to avoid this woman. She’s a subway evangelist . . . sort of. She proceeds down the platform in state, spouting her message to unwilling ears, and then stands on the train car and continues trumpeting as everyone leans away from her. She doesn’t hand out literature or ask for donations; she just yells. She doesn’t interact with anyone. And no one interacts with her—New Yorkers are masters of ignorance. All except one Jewish man one time, who told her (loudly) that she shouldn’t yell at people in a confined space about beliefs they didn’t share. She ignored him and kept on. He got off at the next stop.

So she was at the other end of my car, unimpassioned, just reciting her message of judgment—it feels like judgment, although she also speaks of forgiveness and of Jesus and of salvation. I stood there, wincing, feeling abraded by the flow of her words. Lord, I said, Lord, I can’t concentrate. I can’t hear, I can’t think. If only she would stop yelling.

No. Wait.

I don’t think hers is an effective method of evangelism, and I don’t know what exactly goes on in this woman’s head to make her do this, but she sure is a lot more focused than I am. Even though no one pays her any attention, and people like me actively run away from her, she keeps on saying what she wants to say, what something in her needs to try to make other people hear. And she’s a whole lot better at waiting—or, at least, at proclaiming what she’s waiting for and what she expects.

I try to drown out the world. She tries to make it see.

I don’t know.

I will probably still try not to stand in the same car as her. But I’ve been learning (slowly) about grace, from places like Lauren’s post and two rowdy beagles and self-help books and, I guess, subway evangelists. This is how people work—all differently. This is how God comes and works within us.

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