Sabbath In the City

Last week I attended a continuing education conference in the Chicago area.  After two days in the suburbs, I had decided to spend my last evening in downtown Chicago. A staff member at the conferencehelped me get a reservation at a nice restaurant and made a list of shopping options near my hotel. After carefully making these plans, she surprised me by saying,  "The best thing is to get lost."

Get lost? In downtown Chicago? This went against all of the plans we had made! 

I love the idea of getting lost. I'm not as crazy about actually being lost

Apparently she was a good reader of facial expressions because she assured me that I could get lost safely in Chicago. She told me a road that ran north/south and another that ran east/west. If I used those as my compass, I'd find myself on a safe adventure.

I did as she said. With that cross of streets as my guide, I put away my phone with its GPS and started walking. By the time I returned to the hotel hours later, I had logged eight miles on my FitBit, but my feet were not sore. Without the distraction of the phone or the deadline of an appointment, I gave my full attention to the city: its food, its people, its voices, and its structures. 

And it wasn't always pretty. A whiff of sewage.  A bump on the shoulder from a stranger hurrying by. The screech of tires, followed by frustrated car horns. 

I've always thought of sabbath as a time to pull away from noise, yet here I was surrounded by sound and motion on my day off. As I walked and listened and photographed, I was able to experience "rest" in a new way. I sensed the presence of God, but the experience was different from my typical sabbath of driving delta backroads with my dog riding shotgun. I found peace not through escaping the city but by immersing myself in its pace. 

 In his book, Reversed Thunder, Eugene Peterson writes:

 "When we want renewal and restoration of mind and spirit, want to recover intimacies in family and marriage, our usual practice is to leave the city for the country, or wilderness or resort--some variation on Eden or paradise or Arcadia that we call 'heaven on earth.'

"But the biblical heaven is not a nice environment far removed from the stress of hard city life. It is the invasion of the city by the City. We enter heaven not by escaping what we don't like, but by the sanctification of the place in which God has placed us." * 

Do you find yourself wanting to run away from routine?

Are you looking for escape routes to the beach or football games or anything else that you think will bring you "peace" that's absent at home?

Maybe the best thing to do is not run away to another location but rather to see where God is in your current location. Who knows what wonders God wants to unfold to us if we'll stop looking for the nearest exit and seek an entrance into his presence instead?

When I returned to the hotel that night and sorted through my photographs. two in particular gave me pause. One was of the city by day, with clouds in the distance. The other was the city by night, lit with street lamps that reflected off the buildings. I used an app on my phone to lay them side by side. 

As I stared into the ordinariness of these buildings, I thought of the Israelites as God delivered them from Egypt. "The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of cloud by night" (Exodus 13:21, NIV). The Word was in the city, and the city was in the Word. The same God who led his people through the wilderness still leads us in the fast-paced cities of our everyday lives.

Would you pause with me today simply to give thanks for this moment?

Would you 'get lost' not by physically moving but by paying attention to God right now?

Will you let him "invade the city [of your life] with [his] City?

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian

* Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John & The Praying Imagination by Eugene Peterson was published by Harper One in 1988. These quotations come from pages 173 & 174. Click on Peterson's name is the piece to read about all of his publications on Amazon.com.