Cement and Steel. Grass and Dirt.

“What’s your favorite city?”

The car flew down the highway.  Rain splattered from back tires and landed on the windshield.  Rain fell from the sky, washing the pavement into a blur.

And then there was me.  Sitting inside the blur, pondering this question posed by one of my fellow coworkers.  I touched the corners of my mind, digging into my files, pulling them out, examining them.

My favorite city.  Was there such a thing?

For one, I haven’t been to many cities.  I generally avoid them.  I tried to think of cities that were not plastered in unpleasant memories or connotations.  Grand Rapids?

We were on our way there.  I went to school there.  If any city could be called my favorite, that would probably be it.  Yet I did not love it.  I did not look upon it fondly.  I did not approach it with any sense of longing.  And it seemed a silly answer.

Lexington?  No.  Los Angeles?  No.

I searched my brain once again.  Nashville?  I had liked it.  I had seen very little of it, but like it, I had.  It would be my answer, if not a confident one.

We arrived in the city, the sky still snivelling.  I could already feel the cement, the brick, the steel, closing in on me.  We drove by the river, and I heard it sing.

See this?  Humans built up these great buildings and they crawl around them like ants.  They hang fancy chandeliers to mimic the sun and the stars.  They stack up bricks taller than trees.  But none of it, none of it, is greater than me. 

I long to get closer, to hear his song more clearly, to revel in it, to breath it in, but I can’t.

It is a two day – two night conference.  I spend it wandering hallways bustling with people.  People I don’t know running on cement and steel.  The streets are filled with restaurants, the building is filled with articulate displays of wealth.  I do not belong here.  I walk amongst vendors selling teaching materials and graduate programs from Christian colleges.  I talk with insistent salesmen.  I have no interest in their products, but I don’t wish to be rude.  I take their paper flyers.

Then I come to the end of the great exhibition hall and I see it out there behind the glass windows.  The river.

Come down and walk along my banks.  Yes, the humans covered them in cement.  But they could not cover me.  And they did not want to.  I gave this city its life breath. 

I can feel the river giving me my life breath.  If only I could come closer.  But the keynote speaker begins in fifteen minutes.

I never made it down to the river.  But I heard its song whistling a tune above the noise of the cars, above the multitudes, above the cement and the steel.

There is a certain fascination that cities can contain.  It is a pulsing, looming, alien life.  But it is arificial.  The river, now – the river is real.

“What is your favorite city?”

I guess the answer is that I don’t have one.  Unless you can strip the word city of its man-made granduer, its assumption of greatness, its glaring arificial lights and replace it with quiet fields of grass, gently swaying trees with falling leaves, and views of blue, blue skies unhindered by brick shadows, I will never love a city.

We cannot deny the Creator among His greatest work.  Our greatest work pales in comparison.  Sometimes, it is the quiet, unassuming things that speak the loudest.  Sometimes the rush of the water makes the river of pavement inconsequential.

So keep your closed-in cities, your cement and your steel.  I’ll take the wide-open fields, the grass, and the dirt.