A POEM AND REFLECTION BY JOCELIN THOMAS, PROGRAMS COORDINATOR AT ECM
From Now On All Generations Will Call Me Blessed1
I close my eyes and think of Brown Mary
She looks at me, beaming
She looks at me, and sees the whole of me
I can tell by how her eyes hold me
that she sees me in my entirety, and loves me as I am
She says to me, "my child, what is it you want to ask? What question is on your heart?"
Even though she already knows all that is in my heart, she is empowering me to speak
She wants me to know for myself that the answer is true,
She wants me to know it in my heart, in my head, in my soul, in my being, in my body
I ask her, "am I enough?"
She does not patronize me,
She does not ask me to validate myself,
She simply says:
"Yes, my child. You are enough. You have always been enough. You will always be enough.
Rest here, with me, and know that this is true."
Recently, I was asked these questions at a retreat: What was the image of God you grew up with? How has that image changed? What does divine power and your connection to it look like?
For years, the image of God in my head was an older, white/white-passing man sitting on a big chair, Abe Lincoln memorial style, looking down on me and others with judgment. Someone you did not cross, or risk being punished. Someone who knew all the truth in my head, even if it was bad, even if it was a secret - and would judge me for it when the time came. Someone I could not question, but had to fear. Someone I had to believe in, even though I could not wrap my head around believing in something I couldn't see or feel or understand. After years of not connecting to this image, and not feeling any sense of spirituality at church or in religious practices, I concluded I was atheist around the age of 15.
It's been a journey since then, and much of it for another time. A relevant part is that in the last two years, I've found a spiritual connection that truly speaks to me. I first recognized it as I reconnected to writing poetry, which I hadn't done since high school. I wrote a poem one day, in a contemplative worship space I experienced at Life Together, the Boston-based Episcopal Service Corps program where I am currently finishing my second year. I was struck by how powerful and familiar it felt to articulate what I was feeling, like I had opened a door that was closed. The words flowed out with ease, sewing themselves together, nothing less than poetic.
Since that door opened in the fall of 2017, I've been cultivating my spiritual practice of writing poetry. Sometimes it comes out in a flash like a lightning strike of inspiration, and other times it's a slow, deliberate choosing of words where I intentionally search and piece together the words that capture what I'm feeling. It's through my writing that I found myself returning time and time again to the themes of needing validation and not feeling like enough.
After seeking validation from many external sources, and continuing to feel the same need, in time I came to the realization that I hold the power to validate myself. I recognized the Divine within me, and how Divine power flows through me when I write, and that maybe the words I write come from something bigger than me. Maybe inspiration is a version of Divine energy or the holy spirit. Maybe that is what made me see truth in how the sunlight reflected through that stained-glass window at Bethany House. Or how I saw beauty in the daffodil closest to the road at my house that constantly gets spattered with mud but stands tall anyways, because no one told her that she is anything less than absolutely beautiful. Or how I found life in my grandmother's wrinkly veins and soft hands that have worked so incredibly hard for 90 years and now want nothing more than to rest. Or how I felt and always feel warmth in my sister's giggle that starts in the bottom of her belly. How I heard my truth in Jamila Woods' crooning voice as she sang "I'm not lonely, I'm alone, and I'm holy by my own"2 or how I felt the pull of that pair of hazel eyes that held me despite seeing my raw, true self. The sources of inspiration for my poetry surround me and make themselves known to me both suddenly and slowly.
Another piece of inspiration was an icon of Mary and Jesus, painted with dark skin. The melanin in their skin is like the melanin in my skin. How powerful, to see beautiful Mary, the Divine presence my mother always turns to, the Divine image I feel called to now, painted brown like me. I saw this Brown Mary, and the poem above came to me. In writing the answer at the end of the poem, I knew for myself that it was true. I knew in my heart, in my head, in my soul, in my being, and in my body.
I’ll close with an invitation for you. Using the way in which you like to contemplate deep questions (i.e. journaling, drawing, silent reflection, etc.), reflect on the same questions that inspired me:
What were the images of God/divine power/spirit/higher power you grew up with?
How have those images changed?
What does divine power and your connection to it look like?
1 Text from Luke 1:48
2 Lyrics from “Holy” by Jamila Woods