I was being lifted by the force of bodies onto a Tube train at Barbican station on the London Underground last Friday. It was rush hour. The experience teaches you how it feels to be a rock caught in a glacier inching towards the sea. As the block of bodies moved me along inside the train I passed a young man who pointed at me and said 'Jesus loves you '.
It was a brief encounter before the human tide moved me along and deposited me in a corner in the next carriage. When I emerged above ground at Euston Square it dawned on me I hadn't answered the divine messenger on the train.
I wondered how he had been chosen and briefed for his mission. How did he recognise me? How did he know I would be boarding that train, in that carriage, at that time? Was I truly being singled out? Were there other characters on the train that day who were blessed with a similar message?
Is one expected to reply in kind? Can one fend off the declaration with a heartless rebuff without being smote with a great smite in divine retribution? Perhaps a few words of appreciation would not have gone amiss. Maybe the protocol is to burst into exclamations of delight. At the very least I ought to have said 'thank you'. On the other hand, I suspect a time of quiet reflection is called for following such occasions.
I remembered other moments in life when I had been given momentous information.
Should I rank this one along with, 'you'll be glad to hear we didn't find any cancer', or the time a jovial Irish paediatrician said, 'you have your first baby son and he weed all over me as I lifted him out'?
How does it sit alongside other statements such as ‘we would like to offer you the top job', or ‘there are no charges, you are free to go', or as a young soldier said to me in a land of pilgrimages while pointing his gun at me, ‘if you lower your arms again I will shoot you'?
Does it measure up against a phone call late at night when a voice asked 'do you remember you said if I was in a crash and was not injured, it wouldn't matter about your car’?
At this time of the year we are reminded that divine messengers gave tidings of great joy to shepherds in fields. An announcement on a Tube train is not so out of the ordinary even if it was unexpected. When were any divine messages expected? Surely the whole purpose of religions is to make us catch our breath and give us pause for thought?
In future I will walk down to Farringdon station to catch the Tube. Anything that might be said in the Barbican will pale into insignificance compared to the message of last week.