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Beauty in Contrast: My Reflections on Living South of 38th Street

I grew up in Indianapolis and for as long as I remember, I’ve heard people say that if you move to Indy, you don’t want to live south of 38th Street. 38th Street, an east-west street that is approximately 3.8 miles north of Monument Circle, is the unofficial demarcation between “safe” and “not safe.”

For the last nine years, David and I have lived south of 38th Street. Before that, we lived in the most affluent county in Indiana, several miles north of 38th Street. We lived in the suburbs, where all the houses in our neighborhood were required to have the same roof shingles and mailboxes for “consistency.” We lived in a community where most of the buildings were less than 20 years old, and where most of the people we met were a lot like us.

Yet now, whenever I head home and cross 38th Street, I instantly feel relief. Yes, relief. Why? Because south of 38th Street more accurately resembles life to me. South of 38th Street is where I witness beauty in contrast to a lot that isn’t beautiful. And for me, it feels like home because it matches my sense of reality. Unlike the suburbs where I used to live, which can seem bubble-wrapped in faux beauty and safe sameness, south of 38th Street represents the way life is for many, if not most people around the world.

After witnessing and experiencing enough pain in life, I’ve come to the place where I never want to be cut-off from or cease to be reminded of the reality of suffering. “We come to this twilight moment aware that sidled up against the beautiful things of this world is a lot of ugliness; a lot of pain, brokenness, and despair,” we write in Prayers at Twilight. Beauty stands out in the grit of urban life. Touches of beauty amidst litter and dirt and poverty is a visual reminder of the fact that life isn’t all good, but there is still goodness. Life isn’t all well, but it can be well with my soul.

Creating beauty in the context of its contrast has been such a meaningful endeavor and was a big motivator as to why we wanted our retreat house in an urban setting. We wanted people to enter our space encircled by the contrast of beauty and non-beauty, hoping that unconsciously they would be influenced to see that they, too, can choose to find beauty and rest in the midst of reality, not apart from it. That you don’t have to escape life by driving to some rural location in order to enter the rest of God. (Although we totally affirm the choice to get away and experience a hefty, healing dose of the natural world!)

Beauty is a value that has influenced who we are and how we have designed our beloved Fall Creek Abbey. And it is a joy, every day, to invite people into this sacred and light-filled home, south of 38th Street, to experience the twilight of beauty in contrast. If you are brave enough to venture south of 38th Street, please consider coming to Fall Creek Abbey for a personal retreat. We’d love to host you!

This is the fourth blog in the series, The Shaping of a Life, about seven values that are reflected in Prayers at Twilight: Daily Liturgies for the In-Between Times. If you’d like to purchase a copy of Prayers at Twilight, the link is below.

Prayers at Twilight

The Shaping of a Life: Introduction


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