“Pray for each other so that you may be healed.
The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” —James 5:16
The house I grew up in was a big, white Victorian. When I was a little girl, what I liked most about the house was its front porch with its turned columns and gingerbread fretwork. The floor was painted a shiny gray, and the floorboards squeaked when I walked on them. At one end, an old green porch swing hung from the ceiling on heavy chains. When I sat on it, my feet were high above the floor, and to swing I had to rock my body back and forth. I spent many summer hours in that swing, often late in the evening when darkness came and sounds were fresh and new.
I loved the night sounds. Unlike many children, I wasn’t afraid of them. Instead, in the solitude of darkness, I found them comforting. Chirping crickets, a mournful foghorn, the roar of a motorcycle, even the soft footsteps of a neighbor walking by was like music to my ears.
Trains made my favorite night sounds. The tracks were a half-mile from our house, and the sounds drifted loud and clear to where I sat on the porch. I made a game out of listening. When I heard a train whistle in the distance, I tried to guess where it was. I listened to the blasts of the air horn as the engine approached each crossing—two long, one short, one long. When the train arrived in my neighborhood, I savored the sounds of its cars rushing by and its wheels, metal against metal, grinding hard on the rails. Sometimes, if the wind was just right, the ground seemed to rumble from the speed and weight of the train, and I could feel its vibrations as I sat on the swing.
I became very good at discerning the sounds of freight trains and passenger trains. The freights traveled slower. Their whistles howled in intervals as they slogged up the line working their load. I could almost fall asleep listening to freight trains. They were comforting, predictable, and safe. Passenger trains had the opposite affect. They woke up my senses as they raced along the rails. Their shrill whistles sounded an alarm: Get out of my way! I have someplace to go. The whistles blew endlessly, and the crossings flew by quickly. As passenger trains charged through my neighborhood, they took command of the night. Then, as fast as they came they were gone.
As I sat there in the swing, I imagined the people in the trains. In the freight train, the engineer wore blue-and-white pinstripe overalls. The engine cab window was open, and his shaggy hair blew to one side as the night breeze rushed inside. Dozens of cars separated him from the caboose where the one I called Caboose Man slept sitting in a captain’s chair with his feet up on a worn, wooden desk. In the passenger train, the engineer wore a crisp, blue uniform. His engine hauled silver cars with people in suits, and when the conductor walked up the aisles he steadied himself by the seatbacks. Under his blue cap, he sported a short, regulation haircut, and pinned to his coat was a plastic nametag. I could almost hear him call out the stops: “Zion! Kenosha! Racine! Mil-wau-kee!” Then the trains rushed away, taking with them my childish imagination, and I returned to the swing on the quiet, front porch.
I still like listening to night trains. I hear them as I lay in bed, and they carry me back to the porch swing and the comfortable all-is-well feeling that I used to know. Sometimes, I pray for the people on board. In the quiet darkness, I pray for the engineer and the brakeman on the freight train and for transients riding in boxcars. I pray for the travelers in passenger trains and also their families. I pray for the safety and well being of everyone on board and, above all, for those who don’t know Jesus. Sometimes the Lord leads me to pray for a traveler who is lonely or battling an illness or struggling with an insurmountable problem. I’ve learned to recognize God’s nudging. At His command, I pray until the train sounds fade into the night.
It has occurred to me as I listen to the trains that we know so few of our fellow travelers here on Earth, yet God is able to connect us through prayer. He took my childhood fascination with train sounds and turned my thoughts to the people on board. That experience, many years ago, is the foundation on which I build my prayers today. With childlike simplicity, I still imagine the people on the trains, and I lift them up to my Heavenly Father who knows and provides for their needs.
As we go through life, it is important to understand that God sees us all as one earthly family. The world is filled with strangers, yet He asks us to remember that we are His family in Christ. He may use us in an active sense to help one another, or He may use us as prayer partners to help with specific needs. Just as He loves us, God asks that we love one another through prayer. Listen then. Listen for His voice in whatever you do. Even in the most unlikely place and time, near a lonely stretch of railroad tracks in the hollow of night, God might ask you to pray.
Make me aware of the needs of others that I might lift them up in prayer.
©2009 by Jean Fischer
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