For 17 years I rode the New York subways several days a week. It turned out to be one of the key spiritual practices in my life. Even though I haven’t been on those subways much at all since 2017, the experience introduced me to divinity in ways that have kept growing,
This ongoing divine eruption in my life had a lot to do with two very ancient texts from the Mediterranean. I will tell you about these two ancient documents—one recently discovered and one in the Christian New Testament—but first I need to tell you about my regular subway rides up the West Side of New York.
I mostly rode the 1, 2, and 3 Broadway lines. Each of the cars on these lines were laid out similar to the one pictured above. That is, one row of seats faced the other across the car. For the most part, everyone found themselves seated across from a whole row of other people, staring at each other. It was quite a feeling to look across at such a long line of people. Often it seemed everyone found themselves averting mutual glances across the car.
This experience of everyone sitting across from one another was powerful since there are so many different kinds of people riding the subways. More or less, every day one sees people from every corner of the globe, as if riding the subway is some endless version of the United Nations General Assembly.
There’s more, but now let me tell you about the two ancient Mediterranean documents that helped make riding the NY subway a divine experience.
The Gospel of Truth
The first document is the recently discovered text that was probably written in the early second century CE, the Gospel of Truth. Here are a few quotations from that nine-page work:
“This is the way of those who hold something of the immeasurable greatness from above. They stretch toward the full…Mother for them….they rest in the one that rests. They are not troubled or twisted…” (27:1,2,4) The Word of the Father walks in creation as the fruit of his heart and the face of his love. It bears all things and it receives the face of all things…bringing them back to the Father, to the Mother, Jesus of boundless sweetness.” (10:5,6)
The Gospel of Truth lushly describes a divinity that has greatness and helps people become untroubled. This divinity is full of loving creation that receives people into a boundless and multi-dimensionally gendered sweetness. A godly presence overflows humanity and all things, with no mention of sin, judgment, or limitation. This intermingling of humanity and divinity has no sense of right belief or demands for repentance, rather it continually unfolds in compassion and growth.
The Gospel of John
The other text, the New Testament Gospel of John, has a very similar depth of graciousness and an infinitely open intertwining of divinity and humanity. Here is a particularly poignant invitation for divinity and humanity to overlap and interpenetrate:
Jesus says to his brothers and sisters: “In truth I tell you: The person who trusts in me will do the work that I am doing, and will do even greater work than I …” (John 14:12)
“… I am in the Father and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20)
Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
Just as in the Gospel of Truth, divinity, creation, love, greatness, humanity, Jesus, and sweetness flow over each other, so in the canonical Gospel of John, Jesus is the cipher through which divinity and humanity flow. This is so much the case in the Gospel of John that humans can even surpass Jesus in what they do as they realize how they are in God and Jesus.
It probably took me several months of riding the NY subways before these two ancient Jesus-related texts entered my consciousness alongside the wonderfully and endlessly diverse people on the subway. I began to see the people sitting across from me in the subway as a part of the Gospel of Truth’s “immeasurable greatness,” “creation,” and “boundless sweetness.” As the subway riders walked onto the train in their endless variety, they seemed as if the divinity portrayed in the Gospel of Truth was walking through creation and unfolding a “boundless sweetness.”
The mix of divinity and humanity
Soon another dynamic emerged from the Gospel of John’s relational mix of divinity and humanity. I began to gently chant (in my head) a version of the Gospel of John. I would look into the stunning diversity across the subway car of the mother and daughter sitting next to each other, the African friends chatting with each other, the Syrian refugee staring at the subway map, the teenagers on their way to or from school, the Latinx with her head buried in her book, and the non-binary person with a floppy pink hat. Sometimes I looked into their eyes. But I also found myself satisfied to also listen to their tone of voice or notice their smiles or frowns, their enjoyment of listening to their headphones, or the way they held hands.
As I let their own mix of divinity and humanity sink in, my real—but inaudible—chant took on a rhythm. To each person I would repeat a version of the Gospel of John. “I am in you and you are in me.” My silent chant started to sink into my consciousness. Simply “You are in me” became real to me. “I am in you” felt like it was a real bond across the subway car. “I am in you and you are in me” became a celebration that filled my heart. “Your divinity is my humanity” wound its way into my soul. “My humanity and your divinity” was alive in both of us, whether I said it or not.
This went on for years. Of course, because the “boundlessness” of the kinds of people on the subway was overwhelming, expansive, and inspiring, my silent chant often became a roar in my body. I could remember the joyful Brazilian grandmother from the week, month, or year before, even when I did not see her. When I would look across the car, and see the fierce confidence of a dancer, I would find myself silently saying to both of them “I am in you and you are in me.”
“I am in you and you are in me!”
Since my subway ride was from my home to where I taught courses on the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of John, and countless other texts, I started telling my students what I was doing on the subway. I would sometimes tell the class of the people I had seen on the subway that morning. And, I would ask them—this time really out loud and in class—to whisper quietly or in full shout “I am in you and you are in me!”
One day shortly after I had started to share my “meditation/prayer” with my students, on the ride home from teaching I saw one of my students at the far end of the crowded car. I could see and recognize her, but the car was too crowded for me to make my way to talk to her. But I began to become aware that she was mouthing something to me, even though I could not hear what she was mouthing. I simply could not figure out what she was doing. She got off at her stop, and I went on to mine.
When we saw each other in class the next week, she raised her hand at the beginning of class. I recognized her, and she asked, in front of everyone, “Do you know what I was saying to you last week at the other end of the subway car? I confessed that I had no idea because the subway was so full and we could not reach each other. She shouted in front of the class at the top of her lungs: “I am in you and you are in me.” And then quickly she turned around and looked at her classmates, raised her hands, speaking to them in full voice: “I am in you and you are in me.”