When I was asked if there might be some reflections I could share with you after my recent race, the New York City Marathon, I had some ideas running (pun intended) around my head. A few hours after I began writing that piece, the world changed. The City of Light went dark. I spent the better part of Saturday morning trying to share my reflections on the different neighborhoods of New York, my recent experience in the Social Security Administration office and how we all belong to one another—how connected we all are, if we just look and listen. I was stuck.
Often, when words fail me, I put on my running shoes, plug in my headphones and turn to the songs of Taizé. They were introduced to me in college by my campus minister during Lent. She had recently been to Taizé and brought home the beautiful words and music to us. We’d gather once a week in the campus center, late at night, in a dark room with candles lit. It always struck me how much lighter the room seemed after a few minutes of singing the same words over and over. “Oh, Lord, hear my prayer. Oh, Lord, hear my prayer. When I call, answer me. Oh, Lord, hear my prayer. Oh, Lord, hear my prayer. Come and listen to me.” Those words are often my mantra while running.
So, this morning, hoping to break through my writer’s block, I put on my running shoes, distressed by the state of the world and began, “Oh, Lord, hear my prayer.” I recalled it was the same mantra I was singing in my head on the way to the starting corral of the NYC Marathon. I was nervous. Nervous about how big this race is. 50,000 runners. The largest in the world. Daunting. And, I’ll admit, an opportunity for terrorism. Truth be told, that is why I was afraid of the Verrazano Bridge. Not the steep incline, not the height, not the length. It was the iconic image of all those runners covering that bridge that got to me. How vulnerable we were on that bridge. I refused to let that darkness take control of my thoughts. “In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful. In the Lord, I will rejoice, Look to God do not be afraid. Lift up your voices the Lord is near.”
Once in the starting corral, I looked for a quiet spot to compose myself. It was wall-to-wall runners. And loud. I settled for a small spot on a curb with runners inches away from me on either side and to the front and back of me. I closed my eyes. And reflected on how it was All Saints Day. How nearly a year before, one of this congregation’s own beloved children had died. How we all gathered that Sunday. How dark it felt. “Within the darkest night, you kindle a fire that never dies away.” The laying on of hands, in that moment, that never felt so dark, and yet, so light at the same time. It was one of those moments that Glennon Melton of Momastery would call “brutiful.” One of those moments where life can be so brutal and so beautiful, at the same time. It, for me, was a reminder of how we are one family, in Christ, and how we are called to carry one another when the the burden is just too great to carry alone. And later that evening, as we gathered for Compline, the sanctuary had never felt so dark to me, but the candles had never seemed so bright, either. So, sitting, in that corral, I reflected on those moments and thought of loved ones’ names being read during worship, and I nearly broke down right there in the corral. “Oh, Lord hear my prayer.” I felt your presence with me there in the corral, and I was with you there in the pews. We belong to one another.
Then I opened my eyes, and looked around. And smiled. “The Lord is my light. My light and salvation.” I forgot about my fear and focused on taking in every single moment of that race. 130 countries represented. How amazing is that? We CAN put our differences aside and run TOGETHER for 26.2 miles. We can be a bright shining light. If only we could all just go for a run and solve the world’s problems and differences. I got over the Verrazano Bridge, at peace,with a smile on my face and the camaraderie of my fellow runners. “My peace I leave you, my peace I give you. Trouble not your heart. My peace I leave you. My peace I give you. Be not afraid.”
I spent the rest of the race, as I intended, “listening” to the stories of each of the five New York City boroughs. Along the way, it occurred to me that the darkness might always be with us, but, so too, will the light. When we meet the stranger, the refugee, the fear of darkness will always be there, but, the brilliant, brilliant light of Christ will ultimately overcome it. I’m confident that out of the darkness of Paris, there will be brilliant stories of light and love (we’ve already begun to hear some of them). I’m confident that the abundant grace and unending love offered to us by God is for ALL of us. It’s what keeps me in the race. We belong to one another–in the pews, in the starting corral, in the depths of our own grief and the world’s grief. We all do. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” .
imberly Carswell and husband Scott live in Hanover County. They are parents to three boys – all “cradle members” of GPPC. Kimberly began running marathons several years ago after completing a half marathon – inspired by our associate pastor at the time. She keeps a blog about running at runningthroughintersections.blogspot.com .