The City... of God?



“Earth hath not anything to show more fair…” The first line of a poem by the English romantic poet William Wordsworth… And what was he referring to? A beautiful seascape… A range of majestic mountains… The tree-clad, rolling hills of Cumbria… A rainbow in a leaden sky… No… As many of you will know from your schooldays (although Wordsworth probably isn’t taught in school these days), it’s from a poem entitled “Composed upon Westminster Bridge” and refers to the city of London in the light of dawn… the great heart of Victorian Britain…
Now I like London… My thoughts were drawn to this poem because I’m flying over to London today for a meeting in Westminster Central Hall tomorrow… And next month my wife and I have booked a long weekend there to do some galleries and shows… But I’ve never quite understood Wordsworth’s sense of rapture when looking at London from that bridge… especially since in his day it would have been cloaked in smoke and the river flowing sluggishly beneath his feet would have been somewhat fragrant, so say the least…
We tend to have a love hate relationship with cities… I’ve been a city boy most of my life and I love the trappings of urban living… the convenience of everything being at hand… But I like escaping to the country when I can. Globally humanity gravitates towards cities… indeed worldwide, recently we have just tipped over into the situation where more than 50% of people on earth live in urban settings… But given half a chance, having made their money, people retreat to rural or at least sub-urban bliss. And within the church we’ve never been terribly comfortable in inner city settings… Many of our hymns and religious metaphors, drawn as they are from the predominantly rural Palestine of scripture, are pastoral and agricultural…
Yet the trajectory of scripture, as with the trajectory of humanity is from a pastoral paradise to a city… The city where God dwells with his people… The meeting I’m going to in London, is supposed to be looking at how we as people of faith can get engaged in our local communities… and one of the issues we need to address is how can we help make the city a fairer place for all… addressing the needs of people drawn to and feeling that they are trapped within cities…


But perhaps a good starting place is to recognise, with Wordsworth, the beauty, and grace of God that lies around us… whether we are in London, Londonderry, Derry, or the teeming metropolis of Lisburn… Even black Belfast, as a friend used to call it…
On the same edition of "Good Morning Ulster" today on which this was the "Thought for the Day" there was an item about civic pride, or lack of it, in Belfast... Do churches not have a role in that? Like EBM and their amazing Skainos scheme to redevelop part of Inner East Belfast. Or even to just encourage us to look around in the light of dawn and recognise that God’s already at work in the city…

(An adaptation of the Thought for the Day on Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme today.)

ps. Glenn Jordan, over on Crookedshore is on a similar theme (indeed it is a familiar theme with him) in his reference to the new book "Discovering the Spirit in the City.")









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