Finding God In New York City
Updated: Feb 26, 2020
John Eldredge, in his short book Epic, uses this as his subtitle: “The Story God is Telling and the Role that is Yours to Play. In the first chapter Eldredge quotes Sam, the Hobbit, in The Lord of the Rings as asking, “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?” Eldredge goes on to say, “Sam assumes that there is a story; there is something larger going on. He also assumes that they have tumbled into it, been swept up into it.” Before 1987, I would not have believed that I was in any story but my own. But in the spring of that year, my whole concept of story would be turned on its head.
As a young boy, I thought Manhattan was the center of everything that was romantic and mysterious. I would occasionally travel to the city with my father by train and would come away with the conviction that New York was my city and that I would someday move there.
My attraction to the great city would later take on a literary cast. As I grew older, New York became for me the city of Melville, Whitman, and Fitzgerald, a never ceasing engine of dreams and money, drawing people from around the world to live and work in the steel and glass canyons that tower above the churning streets. F. Scott Fitzgerald particularly influenced my thinking as when in The Great Gatsby, he describes the experience of approaching the city from afar:
“Over the great bridge, with the sunlight through the girders making a constant flicker upon the moving cars, with the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money. The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.”
In September 1969, I was married in New York City and soon secured a job as a sales rep for a book publisher. Ten years later, I was Vice President, Director of Sales at a major publishing house. In 1981, I left that job to open my own start up, but by 1987 I realized my company was in trouble and was skidding off the side of the road and then….
And then, one spring day I took an unscheduled detour by entering a church on Park Avenue. I was alone and the church was empty. Silence hung over the vast space and instead of turning back to rejoin the flood of people going somewhere in a hurry, I sat down. I had entered the church on an impulse and then I said a prayer on impulse. I did not expect anything to happen one way or the other and soon enough I reemerged into the light and the flowing stream of determined people passing by.
Two weeks later, an angel must have entered my office because I received a very explicit message to get up, leave the building, find a bookstore and buy a Bible. Amazingly, I did just that: I found a bookstore a few blocks away and bought a beautifully made leather-bound Bible. And with that one act, everything in my life would begin to change.
In 1989, my company declared Chapter 11. It should have disappeared forever at that point, but it emerged in 1991 from bankruptcy. Real miracles happened during this period. It was also in 1991 that I discovered a lectionary that gave me an excellent roadmap in my new quest to know the Old and New Testaments. Using the lectionary, I immersed myself in daily reading year after year. I also began to attend church, participate in Bible studies, listen to tapes, and read as much as I could to supplement my daily biblical readings.
By 2001, I began compiling passages from the wisdom books in the Old Testament for my children mostly, but for other purposes as well. Those passages became a book I would call Tree of Life. Once the book was finished, I began to write short commentaries for each of the 365 wisdom passages chosen for the book.
By the end of the first full year of writing, I realized I wasn’t ready for prime time, to put it mildly. I returned to the keyboard and for the next two years I rewrote and rewrote until I became confident in what was being said and how it was being said.
The first version of this book was published in 2008 and was called Trail Thoughts. In 2011, the book was reissued as Signposts and became the basis for a series of 365 daily podcasts with Senior Pastor Chuck Davis of Stanwich Church.
While in Israel in 2012, Chuck Davis and I committed to embarking on a new series of daily podcasts on Jesus as he is revealed to us in the four Gospels. After those were completed, I decided to write a new book based on the content of the podcasts. That book was Getting to Know Jesus, published in 2016.
Finally, in November 2017, I started posting a psalm and short a commentary on Twitter and Facebook. In addition to the psalm, I included a photograph as a way of adding a new dimension to the experience of being in the Word of God daily.
What began as a short prayer in an empty church in Manhattan in 1987 had, unexpectedly, grown into a trilogy of devotionals that has put me in the middle of a story that I never expected to be in. At that time, I would have been incapable of thinking I was in any story but my own. But as I came to know the Bible, I began to see the larger narrative Eldredge writes about; I began to see that when I prayed to God for help that day in 1987, I opened a way through a door that revealed to me that I was being invited into a story that has been unfolding since the beginning.