Feeling His divine presence on the streets—and trails—of Manhattan.
Posted in , Apr 7, 2022
Most mornings, I start the day in motion. I wake up early, force myself out of bed, pull on running shoes and hit the road. I live in the middle of Manhattan in New York City, so my running options are limited. Sometimes I run a six-mile loop road in Central Park. Other times I try to be more creative, weaving through the park’s many crisscrossing paths. If it’s light enough, I run on the park’s dirt bridle trail, where every now and then I’ll see someone riding a horse.
I have prayed countless times in countless places over the years, but my morning runs are where I encounter God most reliably. There’s always a moment when it happens. Maybe it’s when the sun crests the horizon and suddenly Manhattan’s east side blazes orange and the apartment buildings encircling the park light up like lanterns. Maybe it’s when a gentle rain falls and the skyscrapers of midtown are wrapped in clouds. I’ve run through snow, sleet, hail and pounding thunderstorms. Once, the temperature dropped below zero and I was stopped by a local news crew who came to Central Park to interview people crazy enough to go jogging on the coldest day of the year.
There is something about being outside in the early morning in all kinds of weather that feels uniquely exposed to the mysterious forces of God. I feel God’s presence in the beauty. In the quiet. In the friendly nods of other runners on the road. Even in the air itself. I hate summer humidity but I know it’s part of creation, so I (try to) give thanks for it anyway on muggy mornings. Before the sun comes up, runners and dog walkers pretty much have the park to themselves. There are no tourists. No kids from nearby schools using the fields for recess. No musicians or bike cabs or horse-drawn carriages. The city feels subdued, as if, for this brief time, God has turned his attention to this hustling metropolis and said, “Be still.”
Many days when I first wake up, the last thing I want to do is haul myself out of bed and exercise. It’s always worth it. Even the repetitiveness of my running routes becomes a source of prayer. Tiny variations loom large. I spot the first crocuses and bluebells that announce the coming of spring. See the first cherry trees blossom. Hear the first cries of migrating geese. Get excited over the first sign of fall (my favorite season). Run through the year’s first snowfall.
I don’t listen to music when I run. I like to hear the world wake up. I imagine God gently stirring everything back to life. There is nothing to do but look around and take it all in. My mind wanders but it always comes back to this central fact: God is present and at work in the everyday moments around me. Soon, I’ll be back home, swept into the work day, my mind stressed and distracted. Here, for a precious hour, I am fully alive and fully aware. In motion under the watchful care of God.