If the rabbits used to dominate the dogs here, there must have been a coup d'état, because today dogs scurry around every corner, not rabbits. They come in every size and they tear into garbage cans, ravaging for food. My walk between home and work is a bit a chaotic some days, with thick traffic and swarthy men on mopeds and endless honking and yes, street dogs.
Yesterday evening, as I left work, my sandals collecting sand, my body dodging onlookers and vehicles, one sentence escaped my mind and drifted into His sky: Thank you, God, for this beautiful city. (Sometimes what I pray surprises even me.) I wondered how I could look at that chaos and dirt and think of beauty.
A friend visited recently, and he saw many dirty streets and stray dogs and poor children. My local friends were constantly asking him, "So, what do you think of our country?" He could not speak for the country, but he could speak for our city, and he commented on the delicious meals he had here. But depending on who was asking, sometimes he'd mention how surprised he was at the garbage he sees nearly everywhere here. It clutters and piles and pollutes. It shocked him a little.
As someone who grew up in a third-world city, living in a dirty city again is not so distressing for me. To be honest, I hardly notice it, unless I step in it or smell a stench. But it was interesting to see my city through his eyes: truly, our city is not beautiful, especially to first-world visitors. There are swathes that are nice, if they're gated, guarded and groomed. But in general, the sides of the streets are piles of dust with scarlet trails of spittle. Compacted against the would-be curbs are flyers, food, and feces. The gutters are open or non-existent. Shanty-towns crowd what were open fields. Government housing blocks remind me of a concentration camp: grey with narrow, dank hallways separating one-room dwellings and the omnipresent garbage crunching in the cracks and corners. This is our city.
And yet I still said, Thank you, God, for this beautiful city.
What makes this city beautiful is that it is full of bearers of the image of true Deity. Most are without a true knowledge of Him, so they reflect Him accidentally. Like a carver's woodwork would bear his trademark grooves by no choice of its own, the people of my city prove the Word true without even meaning to. In their living they bear testimony to the Living One (for "in Him we live and move and have our being").
They reflect His creativity,
with their patterns, textures, carvings and designs.
They reflect His generosity,
when they give meals, time and gifts, over and over again.
They reflect His artistry,
in their dancing, singing, painting and drawing.
They reflect His authenticity,
when offering a fair price after seeing white skin.
They reflect His joy,
with their propensity for parties and affinity for bright colours.
They reflect His relational nature,
when they long for relationship, thrive in relationship, and bring vigour to relationships.
Anyone who has lived abroad, indeed anyone who has lived, must admit that it is people that make a place. The Yukon is stunning, but it's better with a friend to talk to over salmon chowder. Long walks in dusty alleys where anything from dried dung to sheep heads to roosters are for sale...are more fascinating when they are walked with a friend. People (not dogs, litter or pollution) ultimately make a place, beautiful or otherwise. People who reflect—in fallen, less-than-glorious ways—the beautiful image of God.
In this city morning prayers go up from over 1,600 temples. It would be hard to find a local who denies there is a god. But who is He? What is His name? How does He want to be worshiped?
This is my morning prayer, if you will: that the accidental reflections of His beauty that I see here would give way to intentional, redeemed reflections—that are found in right relationship with the true Deity. He is beautiful. Amen.