Spiritual disciplines and practices help us to build a rhythm and deeper relationship with God. One of those practices, listening, facilitates our hearing and response to the voice of God in our own narratives, in Scripture and in conversations with others. Some say that the noises of the city drown out the voice of God. In my experience, I have found the opposite to be true. While leading walks in Downtown Los Angeles, I have discovered and practiced three ways to listen for God’s voice in the city:
1. Listening for God’s voice in the sounds and heartbeats of the city.
In the city there is the heartbeat of God, the heartbeats of people and there are the many heartbeats of the city, overlapping, intersecting and coming together. Do we hear and feel the heartbeats? What do they reveal? These heartbeats can be heard in the hum of traffic, the roar of emergency vehicle sirens, the flow of conversations in multiple languages and the drum of construction. Do do we hear the voice of God in these heartbeats?
“Screaming sirens give us a chance for anonymous intercession. Skyscrapers, like spires and minarets, lift our eyes. A red traffic signal gives us a moment for petition or praise. What we once might have seen as distractions can instead be spiritual openings – “gateways“. I call them invitations and beckonings to God’s presence. Each gateway invites us into a deeper spirituality, not in spite of the city, but because of it.” Soul and the City: Finding God in the Noise and Frenzy of Life by Marcy Heidish.
What is God speaking to us in the sounds and heartbeats of the city?
2. Listening for God’s love for people as we encounter them in the city.
Breath prayers (also known as the Jesus prayer or prayer of the heart) are shaped by the rhythm most essential to our lives – breathing, our breath. As we breathe, we repeat the same prayer for the day i.e. ‘Christ have mercy’, ‘God be with us’, etc. One of the breath prayers I pray as I walk in the city is ‘God, help me to see your image in the face of others.’ This breath prayer helps me to see and acknowledge others as God’s beloved and to speak blessing over them silently as I pass them by on the street.
“In the city there is grit but there is also grace.. In a city we have God’s face all around us, if we look for it, not in the sky, but in the faces of others. Whether we’re talking about Los Angeles or Louisville or Bakersfield or Bend, cities can show us how varied we are as human beings: aired in ethnicity, race, age, style, health. We might think the cityscape hides God, but in a unique way, a metropolis (and place) reveals God’s presence through the diversity of His children, for all are created in God’s image.” Soul and the City: Finding God in the Noise and Frenzy of Life by Marcy Heidish
What words of love is God speaking over us and those we walk with in the city? How do we see others as his beloved?
3. Listening for God’s call/mission for us in the city.
I regularly spend time at the Church of our Lady of the Angels (Downtown LA Catholic Cathedral). Almost every aspect of the Cathedral has a theology of place with the intention of connecting us to God’s presence. There are tapestries of the (communion of) saints lining either side of the Cathedral. Each of the saints are looking toward the cross at the front of the Cathedral which reminds us that we are all on a journey to the cross, to Jesus. Behind the cross of Jesus is a tapestry of a Downtown Los Angeles map and the words of Revelation 21:3 (God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.) This tapestry reminds us that we are on a journey to the cross and God calls us to be on mission with him in the city. How do we proclaim the Good News of His love to the city? How do we listen for His call? What mission does God invite us into?
God’s voice is speaking to us in the city; in the sounds and heartbeats of the city, through others we encounter and in his call/mission for us in the city. Do we hear him?
Each summer in July, SIS offers an LA urban immersion class, Transforming the City, that looks at urban transformation in personal, communal and systemic dimensions. Transforming the City is a collaborative course co-taught with SIS faculty Jude Tiersma Watson and Mary Glenn in her role with Cities Together.
Mary Glenn is Affiliate Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies at Fuller’s School of Intercultural Studies. She is the Co-President of Cities Together, a Christian non-profit organization working with collaborative movements and leaders for city transformation. Mary is also an adjunct professor with Bakke Graduate University and Azusa Pacific University. Mary has served as a law enforcement chaplain since 2001 with Alhambra PD and more recently the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, is a police chaplain trainer and an ordained pastor (with over 20 years of pastoral experience). Mary is a board member with Central City Community Outreach in Downtown LA/Skid Row.