Nearly 20 years ago, my husband accepted a job offer in Winnipeg that resulted in our family’s move from Ontario, a place we had called home for 22 years.
While I appreciated his opportunity, I was also quite distressed. Like some sensitive flowers, I do not transplant readily, and the move was hard on me. I grieved the distance between Manitoba and my extended family in Pennsylvania. I missed my house and my friends. I lost the social and professional networks that I had cultivated in Ontario. I yearned for the rolling hills and purple-blue mountains of the east, and I was disquieted by the endless Prairie horizon.
After six months, I reported to a friend that I was no longer crying every day, a small sign of progress. I truly felt like something in me had died and I was not sure what kind of life the future held. Bit by bit, new life called to me through the beauty of the vast, ever-changing sky; a canopy of elms blanketing old neighbourhoods; the vibrant art and music; the resilience of Prairie farm families; and through acquaintances who became friends, patiently loving me through my homesickness.
One Sunday, the preacher read an unfamiliar scripture: “Pray for the city where I have sent you into exile, for in the city’s welfare [shalom] you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7 paraphrased). It was one of the times when God’s voice sounded disturbingly clear, shocking as a bucket of cold water in the face. I remember nothing of the preacher’s sermon, but I long pondered the text and its meaning. I did feel like an exile, and the verse did command me to pray for the city in which I’d landed. God knows a city needs prayers.
I began to raise such prayers. I gave thanks for generous green spaces and long, flat biking paths; for hardy winter dwellers and snowflake crystals on my eyelashes; for abundant water, smog-free air and endless summer days. I raised prayers of intercession for woebegone potholed streets, for the 25 percent of children living in poverty, for those harmed by structural racism, for victims of murder.
Prayer changes things, I often say, and prayer changed me. My original distress gave way to a fondness for the city and its people. Prompted by Jeremiah’s ancient words to an exiled people, I came to see the relationship between my well-being and that of the city in which I had been a reluctant dweller. As I hear over and over again from Indigenous elders, we are infinitely interconnected. Our shalom is tied to the shalom of all the other creatures of the Earth. In my case, that includes the Filipino woman who greets me as we pass on the sidewalk, the beaver chomping leaves by the river, jazz musicians in the park, and the snowy owl sunning itself at the top of the hydro pole on a winter’s day.
The time has come to leave Winnipeg. In a few months, my husband and I will pack up our downsized belongings and return to Ontario. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I am shedding a few tears as I prepare to leave. Maybe Jeremiah knew that if one prays for a city, one creates a heart-space for that place. One becomes attached to it, and cords of compassion, caring and joy bind one to the other. One hopes the place and its people will know God’s shalom. Even if Jeremiah didn’t know that, I’m pretty sure the Spirit did, and used those words to guide me home.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.