In my dreams, I often live on a gentlewoman's farm, or in a thatched cottage, with animals all around, a thriving flower garden, and the perfect desk for writing. In my waking reality, I've lived in or near cities most of my life (except for the eighteen years stretching between 1988 and 2006). With my family as a child, or on my own as an adult, I have made homes in Birmingham (UK), Paris, Brussels, Los Angeles, Chicago, and (three times!) in New York City. From 1988 to 2000, I lived in the Adirondack Mountains of far upstate NY, in the least populated county east of the Mississippi. There, I learned that I am not a very good gardener, that twenty-two horses is twenty too many, and that everything that happens in the city – good and bad – happens in the country too, though perhaps more quietly, and in locations that are farther apart.
My return to urban living took several years, and I like to think that it was the river that drew me back. Where the Hudson originates, deep in the Adirondacks, it's a small stream you can step across. It grows in size and strength as it travels south toward the ocean. When I left the mountains, I followed its path, living in the Catskills for a year, and then moving further south to the New Paltz area. I finally surrendered in 2006 to the irresistible pull of the river, and let it sweep me into the magnetic forcefield of this great city.
I think it was James Joyce who described the Catholic Church as "here comes everybody"; I think of NYC as "here is everybody". Every language, every ethnicity, every economic and social level, every philosophy, every faith, every occupation, every challenge, every grace, every magic: all here. The Queen told Alice to believe three impossible things before breakfast; in NYC, we do that before we even brush our teeth.
For the past two years, I have belonged to a community called the Order of Urban Missioners (OUM) that is based at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. At the moment, there are 36 of us, some clergy, some not, some working in the church, most not. You will not see us standing on the corner with pamphlets. We are not missionaries. Rather, we are Christians who believe that we are called by God to live and work in the city at our various trades and to love with Christ's compassionate love. We meet regularly to share our stories and concerns, to look at scripture, and to join our hands to support each other with prayer.
Recently, one of our members, Marsha Ra, offered a meditation that closed with a beautiful prayer which I've asked for permission to share with you. She has graciously said yes. If you decide to pass it along, please give credit to the author.
Dear God we give you thanks for life in the City, for the millions of souls with whom we share this urban life,
We thank you for their variety,
For their thousands of houses of worship,
For the 170 languages they speak
For the interesting food they cook
For the street fairs
For the parks and trees;
For the birds and other wildlife that share this space with us, often unnoticed; for the companion animals of every kind
For owners of skyscrapers who voluntarily change the skins of their buildings or just turn off the lights at night so that the more than 300 types of migrating birds that pass our way may do so safely;
For the volunteers who plant flowers in parks, on street medians, around trees and those who put up window boxes
For political clubs, block associations, building associations, business improvement districts and all organizations set up to improve city life;
For those who grow orchids, and those who play music, for those who paint and sculpt and act and dance, For lighting designers and make-up artists,
For the creative writers and composers
For the teachers medical workers, police and fire fighters
For the strangers who reach out to strangers when they trip, get sick, get lost, need help
For the doormen and handymen for postal workers and Fed Ex guys, for Fresh Direct and CSA’s
For over 300 colleges, universities and research institutions
For great hospitals
For dog walkers and housekeepers
For the bus drivers and taxicab drivers
For social workers
For the garment district, the flower district, the sports stadiums
For restaurant workers and those guys in trucks selling coffee and hotdogs
For those who have been here all their lives, for those who are just arriving from all over the world,
For everyone who lives in the City:
Help us to do better Lord in this great City.
Help us to improve our school system
Help us to find the way to affordable housing for everyone, help us to solve the problem of homelessness and poverty so that everyone who chooses to live here can find a safe place among us.
Encourage those who are discouraged
Watch over the children and be easy on the old.
Help us to improve accessibility to the disabled.
Help those who work in finance and real estate to avoid greed and to remember You and the poor even as they strive for success;
Support the diplomats
Help those in the judicial system to judge fairly;
Let us see the good human intention in the noise of traffic and of construction so that these city sounds can become a song to our ears.
Above all, give us patience and help us to always see you in the faces of the millions who cross our path.
Be with us, God, in the City. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.