When a dear friend asked me to write this months ago (back in 2020 months ago), I thought, "sure, life will calm down by then, and I'll find time for that." At this point, we were about eight months into a pandemic, and I didn't know it was possible to have so much going on while spending so much time alone. At the time, I was living in Cleveland, OH, and I now live in St. Louis, MO. Yes. You could say things did not calm down.
My relocating could be described as overwhelming. I say this as someone who hadn't lived very far outside of Terre Haute city lines for the first 22 years of her life. The furthest I made it out of Terre Haute was only as far as Le Fer Hall at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC), about 10 minutes on the other side of the river. Living in Cleveland felt pretty far for me. 6 hours away from everyone that I knew and who knew me. Far from anyone who knew the victories I had made and the crosses I carried along the way.
I moved to Cleveland the summer after I graduated from undergrad at SMWC. This move was the first time I felt I was outside of a faith community's relative comfort and safety. Having grown up attending a Catholic elementary school, then a Catholic school again in college, I seemed to have an abundance of faith formation groups, weekend retreats, and friends ready to talk and pray at my disposal. In college primarily, my faith identity was founded so much in the community of SMWC. Additionally, often that was through also my involvement in the St. Joseph's University Ministry.
It was a bit of a shock to my system to find myself in a new state and city and not always have people go to mass with or even just a friend to go to a Theology on Tap / Uncorked event. I found myself sampling churches, events, and young adult groups searching for the community I had always had before. I met great people, joined a wonderful church, and went to some fantastic events, but in the end, it seemed to me that part of the plan in Cleveland was to be alone.
Now, not that I was ever really alone, but I learned so much in this time about it what it meant to be on my own and especially what it meant to be on my own with God. Instead of sitting in a roomful of college students praying in Adoration or on retreat, I found myself sitting, kneeling in a small Adoration chapel I found in a church near my house. Instead of singing praise and worship music with friends, I found myself singing on my own in the car. I found myself praying near a creek in a park on my drive to church and finding a million small ways to be with God on my own. I found a new part of myself and my relationship with God.
It was not always easy; I spent a lot of time wishing for my faith community back. It usually took a lot of courage each time I showed up to an event on my own. But each time I did, even though I was joining and sharing in faith with other people, I learned a little bit more about how to be on my own. In Christ, alone.
I know full well that it is possible to be in a room full of people you love and to feel alone. I also know that you can be in an empty space and feel completely loved. In Christ, alone.
Through knowing Christ, we never truly are alone. For me, it took some time on my own to know that. We must come to learn that being alone isn't always a bad thing and to see that we are with Christ, even when we are alone.
We always will need and rely on our faith communities. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Philippians 4:14, which follows a very well-known verse: Philippians 4:13. It says, "I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me." Right after it, though, Philippians 4:14 says, "Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress." (NRSVCE)
I have always loved the sentiment that we need our friends, family, and peers in hardship. I have often leaned on my faith community in my distress and will many times in the future. Still, it is in Christ alone we find the strength we need.
I leave you with a favorite hymn of mine of the same title as this reflection. Just a tiny change, and suddenly "In Christ, Alone" means something very different and something very beautiful.
"In Christ alone my hope is found;