It must be a lunch break for the Tadjik construction workers outside – no jack hammers or back hoe noise. It’s a frigid, sunny day – very enjoyable from my warm, white-walled, 8th floor apartment. Pretty miserable, though, for my immigrant neighbors who live in hard hats, padded jump suits and metal boxes in the dirt, machinery, and snow of the road construction site below me.
I’ve spent the morning reading. The Beatitudes on the way to class, Kent Annan’s memoirs of living among and identifying with the poor in Haiti, and a cultural history of St. Petersburg, touching on Dostoevsky’s yellow, foggy, miserable mythos of Russia’s former capital.
It brings up the incessant topic that’s always rolling around in my brain and popping up in my reading, conversations, writing and daily commute. Knowing the city and loving the city.
It’s a theme that’s evolved slowly, but my first distinct memory of being mezmerized by it came the summer before I moved to Moscow. In the middle of a lazy half-week spent with family at Silver Beach, McGregor, MN, I found a hardcover 1970s book in our cabin called “Put Your Arms Around the City”. Weaving poetry, philosophy, Bible verses and stories a pastor from Los Angeles described the beauty and necessity of living out your faith in the big city. With a one-way plane ticket already booked to Moscow, the idealism of his writing was inspiring. A prayer typed on a page before the introduction became my mantra, my vision and muse:
O Lord who, when seeing Jerusalem, loved it enough to weep over it, may we see with open eyes our own city–its beauty in the clean edge of fresh-cut steel, in the marvelous shapes of molded plastic, in the powerful grace of mighty machines. And may we see with Thine eyes the people the the streets–their faces, some etched with wear from inhuman loads of harship and privation, some masking fear and hate, and revealing our common humanity of tragedy and hope. Then may we be drawn to our city by admiration and compassion, for it desperately needs people with eyes that see and hearts that care, and who are not afraid. Amen (Maynard D. Smith)
I’ve heard it called the hardest thing in the world – to really know someone with all their quirks, drama, and ugly faults, and at the same time, really love them – totally, unconditionally, and actively.
In this case, the prayer is to both know the city – with its cold, grayness, smelliness, corruption, hatred, traffic jams, pollution, anger, rudeness, and ugliness – and to love it – serving it, seeing it with Christ’s eyes, cultivating its beauty, and relating to it with admiration and compassion.
That is so hard!!!!!!!!!! My natural reaction is to run away from the city (to America or to my books, laptop and warm apartment). I naturally turn bitter, angry, aloof or cynical when confronted when the city. I certainly don’t love it. It has to be supernatural, I guess. It has to be Christ in me that loves the city.
So, I would have to add something to Maynard’s prayer. I would pray not to begin with loving the city, but with loving Christ. Loving and being loved by Christ is the really transformational thing here. I would add the beatitudes:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. -Luke6:20-21
I would pray to be spiritually poor and hungry -desperate to get more of God. I would pray to weep over my need for God in order to laugh with a full and satisfied heart later.
OK, all this philosophizing is getting a bit too heavy for me…time to move on to today’s TO DO list…