Beautiful and Strong: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

Most mornings, I find myself on a crowded red line train from my intentional community’s house near Ashmont Station to Park Street. Shuttered inside the train car I am one face in the constellation of commuters - business people, teenagers on the way to school, construction workers, parents cradling their children. I moved to the greater Boston area from New York City to join Life Together, an Episcopal Service Corps program, although I’m originally from Georgia - from a place sprawling with cotton, tobacco, or peanut fields, depending on the season. Train delays are a relatively new kind of frustration for me. Oddly enough, and despite my chagrin, I have grown to appreciate the opportunity for stillness these moments spent below ground, in between destinations, present.

As I wait underground, the divine has come to feel strangely accessible. It is not so much a space I have made for God as a space I feel God has made for me. Recently, I’ve been revisiting the Christian musicians my Mama used to play in my childhood kitchen. I am still healing from aspects of my fundamentalist religious upbringing. CeCe Winans’ music in particular brings comfort and healing, while reminding me of a complicated relationship to God and faith. I listen to her honeyed voice:

That's when I close my eyes, take some time and realize

That He was always there

Truth is He never left

That is what the Spirit says, and I believe it so

I never have to be alone.

On my morning commute, I am compelled to have patience with myself and my growth, and recognize the one to whom I belong - the one who was always there, and always waiting for me to come back.

This Ash Wednesday, as I acknowledge my mortality and limitations, I am thinking about what it means to surrender. There are so many ways we can separate ourselves from others and from God. In my work at Episcopal City Mission, I expand from thinking about my own healing to how we can create contexts for healing and justice in the world. We often open our staff meetings at ECM with a chant describing the world’s sickness that ends “...but I dreamt we were all beautiful and strong.” When I think of the work we are doing around immigrant, racial, and economic justice, this image anchors me.

In pausing, I can see where there is longing for healing and longing for wholeness - in myself and in the world - and surrender to that truth. Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest and theologian, reflects on “the self-surrender of Jesus” (5)  in his book A Season for the Spirit. Smith states that “the forty days for Jesus began with this handing over of himself to the Spirit” (5). My intention during Lent is to hand myself over to the Spirit. In surrender to my own personal healing process, I believe I can draw nearer to those touched by the world’s sickness, and stand alongside them, all of us beautiful and strong.


Notes:

  • The lyrics come from "Never Have to Be Alone," a song on CeCe Winans’ 2017 album Let Them Fall In Love. 
  • Smith, Martin L. A Season for the Spirit: Readings for the Days of Lent. New York, Church Publishing Inc., 2004.

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Caroline is a Life Together fellow thrilled to learn more about community organizing and join the wonderful Episcopal City Mission team. Caroline graduated in May 2017 from New York University with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. At NYU, she was Co-Events Coordinator for Active Minds, a mental health awareness and stigma-fighting student organization. She has edited and contributed to to literary magazines at Thomas University and New York University, and has organized and participated in community poetry readings. Caroline is a Georgia native who writes, reads, bakes, and does yoga in her spare time. 

Email: caroline@episcopalcitymission.org