†Wisdom in the Streets
Fifteenth after Pentecost - Year B
September 17, 2006
Fifteenth after Pentecost - Year B
September 17, 2006
Let us pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, and may they be to your glory. Amen.
†† †A year in the North preceded by a dozen years living in a mountain national park is plenty of time to learn that many people find spiritual refreshment by getting away from urban life. The natural world is cited by many as a place where they seek and find God. Whether it be the mountain backcountry or out on-the-land as you are more apt to hear in the north, the world exempt from buildings, roads, infrastructure and human begins is what describes a holy place for many people. I would count myself among those who would claim wilderness as a place of spiritual renewal. Perhaps it is a hearkening back to our ancestral roots when urban life was much less likely, or a sense that human beings have messed things up to some extent by living in close proximity, erecting buildings, installing infrastructure and creating industry to make that living more convenient, that drives this desire to get away from it all and find God.
†† †It would seem then, that in the minds of many people, the urban environment represents a necessary evil - a place where you need to be to earn a living, but a place from which you need to escape to really meet God and get in touch with your soul.
†† †A reading of the passage we had from Proverbs this morning would seem to authenticate this perception. Lady Wisdom - as one translation has dubbed this particular image of God, goes out into the city streets to tell people about all the things they do that lead to broken relationships with God. One might get the impression that large congregations of people are a breeding ground for iniquity and separation from God. Take away the population density and things are put back in right relationship.
†† †Given that the vast majority of people in this world live in urban environments that must leave us in a very sorry state. What follows then, in this reflection, are the confessions of a self-declared wilderness lover, but one who was given cause this week to think again about the places where I draw spiritual nourishment.† I offer this, based in part on a cursory first reading of that passage from Proverbs, a reading that led me to daydream about an urban holiday that Sharon and I took not quite two years ago. I offer it also with the understanding that I will always also see wilderness as a place where I need to go from time to time. Especially during the latter part of this past summer I had the opportunity to get out on the land - or in some cases, on the water, and while it may not have been the ultimate wilderness adventure, those times did serve to remind me of the importance of such places for my own spiritual nurture.
†† †Given that our faith states that God is everywhere, it is important for us to always re-think our understandings of where we find God, and to draw new insights from surprising places.
†† †So, where is God in the city streets?
†† †The city streets took another hit this week with the shootings at Dawson College. My heart aches for the people whose lives were forever changed by the incident that took place there on Wednesday. My heart aches for conditions that would drive someone to take out their loneliness, despair, and negative view of life by taking the lives of innocent victims. My heart also aches for the city of Montreal - yet another shooting to tarnish its reputation. Montreal was one of the places we visited on our urban vacation two years ago. As I heard the news reports my mind was drawn to the good time we spent there in October 2004. Even in the relative doldrums of late fall, the vibrancy of the city was tangible, along with the juxtaposition of a very secular modern city against a city with strong religious heritage. The prominent place of St. Josephís Oratory at the top of Mount Royal, overlooking a city which is known as one of the more secular urban places in Canada is an irony which cannot be escaped, emphasised by the Basilica of Notre Dame and the other churches which surround it in the old part of Montreal. What is behind the fact that a city with such a strong religious heritage as exemplified by the large cathedrals, churches and other prominent architectural features should have become so secular? Has the population come to the conclusion that God cannot be found in urban environments, or has the church simply become out of touch with the spiritual needs and hopes of most of the people who live there? I donít know the answer, although I have some idea that being out-of-touch forms part of the reason. What I do know is that we found it to be a place of joy, zest and excitement.
†† †You canít get more urban than the streets of New York City and when I first read that passage from Proverbs this past Tuesday, the image that immediately popped into my head was the one of Times Square that filled our eyes and our heads as we came up from the subway station on the day after the last American Presidential election. As a manifestation of the work of human beings, there is no better example that Times Square with multi-storey neon signs advertising the latest in technology or the current Broadway hit. The canyons created by huge urban towers are reminiscent of a Grand Canyon of human fabrication similar to the Grand Canyon which many would see as more a God created geographic feature.
†† †Many people would see a place like New York city as evil personified. That image would be much reinforced by the ever present image of NYPD jackets that seem always to be in sight. Of course, such shows as Law and Order, beamed across television screens from coast to coast to coast in North America do little to expunge that image of New York as a place where danger lurks around every corner and where all the worst traits of humankind are laid bare. Memories of the fear inflicted among New Yorkers by the terrorist attacks five years ago and as marked in many ways this past week do nothing to help erase that sense of alienation from God that we associate with urban communities. Indeed, it might easily come to mind as a place where Lady Wisdom needs to visit so that she can tell people just how bad they are.
†† †There are people who live their whole lives in such urban environments. We met many New Yorkers who love where they live. To imagine such a place as being alienated from God simply runs counter to our faith that God is everywhere. God is as much present in the city streets as God is present in the quiet of a northern lake. God is as much present in the view of Manhattan across the Hudson River from Brooklyn as God is present in a purple hued sunset along the northwest horizon of Yellowknife in the week of fall (as it was described to us by one long-time Yellowknifer! with a response from yet another Yellowknifer who rejoiced at fall being all of a week long this year!)† I need to be reminded of that. I imagine that many of us who have the privilege of escaping the urban scene need to be reminded of that as well.
†† †It is more than just acceptance that we need to grasp. The city can be a place of salvation for many people. The city provides a place of community for people with varied needs. They can find support there by the very fact that there are so many more people who share those needs, support they would never find in smaller communities.
†† †It seemed almost a clichť for me to tell friends upon our return from our urban vacation that the most interesting and exciting thing we did while we were away was to attend church. I was almost embarrassed to admit it - because it would only serve to emphasise a stereotype that people have of those of us who serve in ministry, but despite the fact that it may do just that, one of the best things we did while in New York was attend a worship service at Riverside Church in Upper Manhattan, right on the edge of Harlem, in the same place that some of the most well known names in North American protestant have stood and preached - Martin Luther King Junior among them. The details of that experience will need to be left for another time, but it was one that sealed for me the sense that God is alive and well and living in the city streets.
†† †Who do you say that I am, Jesus asked. The Messiah was the answer that ultimately came out. The Messiah, the one who will lead you to greater understanding of Godís purpose, Godís love and Godís presence in our lives. Jesus, the Messiah led us to ever new understandings of just how wide our vision must be, in order to take in all that God has for us in this life. Jesus, the Messiah, had clear and open ideas of what constitutes liberation for all of Godís people. Out on the land - for sure, but just as surely in the urban wilderness, where so many of Godís people live. Amen.