“If you want to get in touch with creation, ride the bus or take the subway.” -maybe, possibly, Eugene Peterson
I wasn’t given a playbill, and it definitely started without me, but I’m enjoying the symphony nevertheless. I’m settled into a cold corner table near the kitchen, and the coffee shop is well into the performance. An orchestra of voices already warmed, already in tune, already swelling in unpredictable harmonies.
The girl wearing the bandana and workout clothes looks like she has yet to make it to the gym. Maybe she’ll exercise after she’s done telling a friend about the fear she has of telling Brian she loves him too. College kids gather around laptops, textbooks open, minds and hearts alive only in whatever has them laughing—likely not the subject matter of their assignments. A couple of tourists are wrapping a “wonderful” weekend trip to Nashville—We should do it again sometime.
I feel alive in these scenes.
Urban life has always compelled me. For a boy who lived in a trailer park in a small country town in southern Indiana for the first 13 years of his life, the first ventures to DC or NYC were mesmerizing even beyond the sights and sounds of the city. There was for me a symphony of stories, disparate notes of varied instruments coming together in a new and beautiful way.
Some people withdraw to grand canyons or scale snowy peaks. It is there, in those places, that their hearts are filled, their perspectives renewed for a journey back into the noise of the mainstream. But my circuit has always been flipped. It’s not that I can’t appreciate the beauty of the created order, but there’s a renewal that occurs while nestled between strangers. Hearing a story that’s not my own, that has absolutely nothing to do with me, that’s filled with the same tensions, hopes, fears, and joys, breathes fresh air into my life. My heart is filled, my perspective renewed.
The siren song of the city is bolstered by this idea that I’m in touch with the business, and busyness, of God. Sorrows are comforted. Joys are shared. Hopes are restored. Loneliness finds company. Even those who are alone here in this coffee shop are leaning into something, and the mystery of that excites me. Someone is finding the discipline to do what she loves for a few more minutes. Someone else wraps up the last few chapters of a story that’s somehow become his own. No matter the table, the good things of life are aglow all around me.
It’s nights like this that I remember that anything is possible, that our stories can move in any number of directions or not at all. I’m reminded that my own notes, while important and valuable, are only a small part of a grand orchestration. And even when my Sunday night seems like just another Sunday night without any great meaning or purpose or hope or reason, there’s much more going on than I can even begin to understand.
Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.