A few years ago, when I was still permitted to ride on public transit, I took a bus one afternoon to the grocery store. I’d gotten on at the beginning of the route, so I was able to nab a comfy seat near the front of the bus; the rest of the seats quickly filled up at each passing stop until it was standing room only.
Around half-way through my journey, an older lady got on. I was in a two-seater and my seatmate had just gotten off, so the lady sat down next to me. It was the only available place for her to sit.
We smiled and nodded at each other the way strangers do when they’re forced into publicly-sanctioned physical intimacy. I could feel her body’s warmth through our winter coats. We then chit-chatted a bit about the weather, and I looked at her and she looked at me. I could tell she wondered if she knew me from somewhere, just as I was wondering the same about her. She said she was on her way to pick up her grand-daughter from school, and did I know which stop was closest to the school’s front door. I gave her instructions to the best of my knowledge, and she thanked me. Again, we looked at each other quizzically, both clearly thinking the same thing (that we knew each other somehow), but neither of us said anything about it. I was enjoying her company, even though all we were sharing were mundane pleasantries. I felt as comfortable sitting next to her as if she were someone I’d known and loved all my life.
When it came time for her to get off, we said our good-byes like the dearest of old friends, waving to each other as the bus pulled away.
I thought about that lady again today, and about what made me feel so joyful and comfortable in her presence, even though she was a stranger. She’s born-again. She’s a believer. I know this because I know it. We didn’t say a word to each other about God or Jesus, but I know she’s a believer. I could tell by how the Spirit in me was responding to the Spirit in her. That’s what made us feel like we knew each other, like we were lifelong best friends.
Over the years when I was still allowed on public transit, I must have stood or sat next to thousands of people since I was born-again. We would chat about the weather or transit delays or the crowded bus or subway or train, but our interchange was only polite and friendly. There was nothing remarkable about it. Sitting next to the older lady on the bus was the only time that I’d felt such joy in a stranger’s presence.
Unlike mainstream Christians, I do not believe that spiritual rebirth is wide-spread and that everyone who identifies as Christian is born-again. I don’t even believe that everyone who identifies as born-again is actually born-again. What I do believe is that spiritual rebirth is incredibly rare, and that those who are reborn recognize each other the same way as John the Baptist recognized Jesus when they were both still in their mothers’ wombs – through a sudden surge in God’s Spirit. The Spirit in John the Baptist rejoiced at the presence of the Spirit in Jesus, just as the Spirit in Jesus rejoiced at the presence of the Spirit in John the Baptist. In the same way, the Spirit in me rejoiced at the presence of the Spirit in the older lady, just as the Spirit in the older lady rejoiced at the presence of the Spirit in me.
Even thinking about it two years later, I’m still smiling about the time I spent sitting next to her. I likely won’t be running into any born-agains on public transit any time soon (or ever again), seeing that I’m banned from it, but God will bring us into each other’s presence when there’s a need or when the time is right. I have no doubt about that.
As for the bus lady, I have a feeling I’ll be meeting up with her one day in Heaven, if and when we make it there. Maybe we’ll be seated next to each other at the wedding feast. I hope so. In the meantime, I’m praying for her as I know she’s praying for me as I know we’re all praying for each other in our cloud of born-again witnesses that is God’s Kingdom on Earth.