Finding God in the City

Dear Reader,

So I am not a city person. I might as well tell you up front, because it will become pretty obvious pretty quickly here. I don’t like crowds and the really tall buildings make me feel claustrophobic.

Last weekend we had the opportunity to go into New York City for the day with some friends who live not far from it. Now there is a lot to see in NYC, for all its faults, and it seemed like a great opportunity to show the kids what a real city is like and to do so with other adults who could navigate thus taking a lot of stress off of me. The day we went was a gray, rainy one so we didn’t see as much as we otherwise would have. We only did three sites: the Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Empire State Building.

One thing that struck me this time which I had not really thought about on my one previous excursion to The City was how little green space there is. There is Central Park of course, and we did walk through it, though since the weather wasn’t great I know we didn’t fully appreciate it. From the top of the Empire State Building I was struck by how large the park is, and I am glad New Yorkers have this resource. But still it is all in one place, albeit one large place. As one walks most of the streets, there are only isolated little trees surrounded by what my sister has always called “ornamental cabbages.” And even these are fenced off. As a dog owner, I wondered how the poor city pooches do their business with no green patches to squat on. But it is not just the dogs who suffer. People too need nature. We need the color green. We need to see growing things. We need God’s creation. And that is what seemed to be missing from NYC, at least from most of it. One can go to Central Park, but because the nature is all in one place, one can also walk and walk and walk and really not see anything natural to speak of.

And then there are those tall buildings. Most places even if there is concrete beneath one can at least look up and see a bit of one’s Creator in the sky. But in NYC the buildings are so tall, the sky is practically obscured. There is no good view of it from the street. At one point on that gray day, my friend’s husband even pointed out that the changeable neon billboards even seemed like the sun with the light they cast on us. How is that for replacing God’s handiwork with man’s?

And I can’t help thinking that surrounded by all this man-made stuff and so little God-made stuff that something inside us must shrivel up. And that we will be predisposed to think of ourselves and not our maker. The story is really as old as Genesis 1, the Tower of Babel. Man’s greater creations tend to pull us away from our appreciation of God and His creation.

There was one point in our trip, however, in which I was able to regain my perspective. From the top of the Empire State Building, two things happen. The first is that man and his works get smaller. While there are still buildings taller than where one is standing, these are few. People on the ground are so small as to be invisible and their cars (so many cabs in NYC!) look no more than small, scurrying animals. Secondly, God’s handiwork can be seen again. There is water, there is Central Park in the distance, a patchwork of fall leaves this time of year, and there is the sky, God’s canvas, once again visible to the human eye.

Of course, I am not saying that it is impossible to find God in the city. I hope that He is there in the pinnacle of His creation — people — and that He can be seen through their actions. But I still maintain that it is much harder to have one’s thoughts turned to the Creator when the works of man are so prominently displayed as to crowd out the creation.

Do you live in a big city? Do you agree that it is harder to think of God there? How do your counteract this? How do you do nature study?



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