It is a constant struggle to try to find God and peace of mind in a city of almost 3 million people. Living in Chicago for two years has meant discovering unique ways to escape the rumbling elevated trains outside my apartment window and the bustle of foot traffic along Michigan Avenue heading to work.
I rely on public transportation to take me from point A to point B to point C and back to point A. When I lived in California I owned a car and getting away from the noise was much simpler. Finding God oftentimes meant taking a short drive with the windows open, blasting Coldplay through the car speakers, and gazing at the Pacific Ocean mile after endless mile. I inhaled fresh air and hit pause on my life during those drives. There was a monastery perched high above the ocean that would be my occasional refuge. Or I would sink my toes into the sand during a sunrise walk. Most mornings I would bike several miles along the water with the noises of sea lions and sea gulls as my soundtrack.
Now, it is much more difficult to find a space to hit pause. On a nice summer day along the lakeshore you are competing with hundreds of other people who are craving sunshine after a long winter. Churches will often shut their doors after morning mass finishes, or sometime early in the afternoon, making an evening pit stop almost impossible. If I do happen to find a quiet place, chances are that eventually someone chatting on their cell phone sits down beside me.
I was annoyed the first few months I lived in the city because it was too big and too crowded to find peace. I hated sharing my personal space. My outlook on this changed around my second Christmas in Chicago.
I reclaimed my quiet time with God on short walks home from the gym after a workout. I passed by single-family homes with shovels and plastic slides on their porches and appreciated living in a neighborhood. I volunteered with the food pantry at my parish once a week during Advent to engage with people. I began keeping a “Top Eight Journal” where I jotted down at least eight moments when I encountered God or felt loved.
It was a quick list of snippets of my day, things I saw or conversations I overheard in elevators or walking down the street. Once it was a father who swept up his toddler-aged son in a moment of laughter while they were waiting on a train platform. That was a reminder to me of the joy God brings to our lives in spontaneous ways. Sometimes it is being thankful for running into a friend from my parish on the bus heading to Sunday Mass, which reminds me of always journeying with my community to become closer to God. Earlier this winter, there were several entries making reference to a guy I began to date, which was just exciting to be doing as an adult who is too often wrapped up in work.
As I logged more entries I began to see patterns of God in my life without really trying. There were obvious moments with friends and co-workers over shared meals and conversations. There were many moments of laughter and joy in strangers that I passed each day. Sometimes God was in the quiet of the day or in being grateful for a weekend nap.
Trains still rumble outside my apartment and tourists still clog the sidewalks along Michigan Avenue. Now, when I pass strangers on the street I see something more than their shopping bags, chatter and laughter.
The longer I live in the city, the more I rethink how and where I see God in moments of grace in my life. As much as I miss the impromptu trips into nature, settling in a city has taught me to appreciate where I live and work. I can tune my eyes and heart to see God alive in my everyday surroundings.
Much like I learned in graduate school at a Jesuit university, the core of Ignatian Spirituality is finding God in all things. It is not just finding God in solitude. Finding God in all things means just that. My life in the city has become less about getting away and more about finding peace and good in the present.