People often talk about praying in their houses or in the house of God, in hospitals and over meals. But one of the places people pray most and talk about the least is the car.
I know this because I wrote one book about people talking to the dead and another one about people who believe in magic. I’ve also written about Catholics and evangelicals and Jews and Hindus and Muslims, and people with all sorts of beliefs that they don’t have a name for. All this ferreting around in spirituality means I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people about whether they’ve experienced miracles.
And one of the things I’ve found out is that one of the places God appears to be most active is in the car. (Which makes me think that if you’re looking for God, you might try the car. But that’s another blog.)
If you don’t believe God’s activities often involve cars, ask anybody if they believe in angels. If they do, nine times out of ten, they’ll tell you that they pray for parking places – and they always get one. The Archangel Michael is so effective at finding parking places close to the mall that someone once suggested Parkangel Michael might be a more appropriate title for him.
Many auto miracles involve time warps. Sometimes someone is rushing somewhere and they don’t have a prayer of getting there on time, and they pray anyway and time seems to stand still for them. Impossibly, they travel great distances in shorter times than are possible. Speed, they’ve assured me, is not the salient factor. They’ve been transported without realizing it. Or time has stopped. Or something.
Car miracles also often involve gasoline, as does one told by a friend of mine, Ebenezer Obadare. This story comes from a Nigerian pastor whose country is often gripped by fuel shortages. He’d planned to stop in a town six miles from his home to get gasoline, but the town had no gas. His fuel gauge was now needling toward empty, but the Lord was with him, so he ignored it. Two hundred miles later, he had completed his visit to another town and returned home – all without having added one drop of petrol to his tank.
Lots of car miracles happen in the United States, but people mostly keep quiet about them. Not so in Africa, where Obadare, now a professor of sociology at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, was born and now conducts much of his research into politics and religion and other interesting topics. He wrote last year about car prayers:
In Nigeria, prayers about the automobile can focus on one or a combination of things: prayer to be able to muster sufficient funds to purchase a car of one’s dream, prayers for spiritual fortification against an assortment of dangers and perils, including road accidents and/or evil forces, mystical attack, or the evil eye of malicious kin. As fatalities from car accidents have grown, prayers for protection from the dangers of the road have become louder and persistent. The prayer, “Ka ma rin ni ojo ti ebi n p’ona” (May we not travel on the very day that the road is famished) carries an added resonance against a backdrop of endemic auto-mortality.
In Lagos, Nigeria, he writes, highways are so crowded that traffic jams slowed to a dead stop, which Nigerians call “go slows,” can last several hours. The Nigerians have come up with a solution that might yield greater peace and safety than our traffic jam solutions, which usually involve texting, talking and cursing.
The Nigerians turn commuting into communing, as he cleverly puts it, by using the time to pray.
Obadare writes, “ an ordinarily desperate situation becomes a moment for sustained reflection, and anarchic time becomes an opportunity for quiet time.”
Not a bad idea. And if you happen to need a parking place when you finally arrive, you’ll already be connected to the answer line.