Downtown Crossing Dirty

No matter how much the Downtown Crossing T station in Boston is cleaned, it’s always dirty. A dirty bandaid that fell from a wound; a cigarette butt still sending up smoke, evidence of being recently tossed on the ground to avoid the penalty of breaking the strictly enforced ban on smoking; a banana peel, missed by the cleaning crew – no matter how much bleach, time and energy is used, there is always residual dirt. It never looks clean.

Today as I walked up the stairs to Washington Street this reality hit me. There will never be enough soap, bleach or paint to get this station clean. There are too many crowds, too much traffic, too much raw humanity.

Yet despite this, cleaning crews in the morning and evening continue to work their mops and buckets down stairs and on platforms. Thankless jobs in a thankless station that can never be clean.

And that is how I sometimes feel. I feel Downtown Crossing dirty. I feel the weight of my sin and brokenness. I feel the power of defeat and doubt. Like dirty bandaids and old garbage these things clog my soul, waiting for a clean-up crew to come and try to make it clean.

But stopping in the tunnel of Downtown Crossing I hear this amazing melody of grace. It’s an old hymn that is often heard amidst expensively coiffed and well-dressed people so I shake my head to try to take in the incongruity of this hymn with my surroundings. Am I imagining this?

But it’s unmistakable!

Here in the midst of Downtown Crossing dirty is the melody to “How Great Thou Art”. The sounds resonate in this echo chamber, beautifully played on a violin by a man whose clothes won’t make it to the well-dressed category. The words flow through my mind as the music swells, unwilling to be drowned out by the noise of an incoming train.

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee – How Great Thou Art, How Great Thou Art. 

Suddenly none of the dirt matters. All that matters is this sound, this reminder of a God who is as present in the diversity and dirt of humanity in Downtown Crossing as he is among the beautiful and clean. A God who restores and makes all things new.

My soul is lost in this melody of grace, a melody of grace made for places and moments like these. A melody made for Downtown Crossing dirty.

25 thoughts on “Downtown Crossing Dirty

    1. Yes! It is amazing and so unexpected. I’m used to the guy who sings “Imagine” with a terrible voice and have grown quite fond of him but this took my breath away!


  1. Wow. I doubt I’ll ever walk the dirty main street of my city without thinking of this article. :) I love to read about Christ’s ministry in those dirty places … mingling with the ‘untouchable’ people, so like the folks we pass on our streets every day. I want to be willing to live, work, function in those dirty places, living a life that sings, “How Great Thou Art” right smack in the middle of it. Thanks for these words – so meaningful!!


  2. Once again Marilyn……incredible writing…….thank you………don’t you ever for another minute think of stopping this blog and ministry you have…..I noticed that one of your blogs showed up as a post on Africa Inland Mission’s Facebook page.

    “Saudade” – A Word for the Third Culture Kid
    It’s described as a unique word with no equivalent in English. It’s origin is Portuguese and it was first used …Continue reading »


    1. Thank you thank you. When I see you in person sometime I’ll tell you how pertinent this comment was. I read it in amazement. I am so excited to hear it was on the AIM Facebook page! I’ll have to take a look. I did get an email from someone from AIM asking if they could use it in their newsletter – I was so pleased.


  3. Thanks for this lovely post, much needed today! And now one of my favorite hymns — “How Great Thou Art” — is echoing through my heart and mind. Then sings my soul!


  4. Loved this post! I wanted to reach through virtuality and put money in his case….I was blessed by him through you.


    1. Oh I love this comment so much. And yes – he did get money. If the man who sings “Let it be” with all his gusto in his terrible voice gets money than it seems unconscionable that this man would not receive as well! Next time I’ll put some in for you and me!


  5. In three weeks, my wife and I are leaving for Kenya, Africa. This post beautifully expresses the way I feel as I attempt to encourage the work that is already going on there. It is so different from the “sanitized” version of Christianity we practice here in the USA, but the harmony of the Spirit transcends the physical realities into a beautiful melody that is heard by the hearts of the saints. Thank you.


    1. Joe – thanks so much for reading and commenting. I think about our “sanitized” gospel and I can’t help but laugh as I think about Jesus feet, dirty with the dust from the places he walked and stayed – so non-white-steeple-churchish! Wonderful to hear about your plans for Kenya. I can imagine your world is in an upheaval of goodbyes and suitcases, parties and tears. My sister-in-law grew up in Kenya and I’ve always wanted to visit. Wonderful to have you come by the blog.


    2. I grew up in Kenya & Uganda, and also see and know what you mean, about the somewhat ‘sanitized’ American church. As Americans, we often tend to think we’ve got things ‘figured out’ — faith, family, church, democracy — and we want to teach the rest of the world ‘how it’s done’. Oscar Muriu is a pastor at the Nairobi Chapel, and spoke at the Urbana Missions conference I attended back in 2006. A central part of his message was that the Western church has things to learn from the African church. I found his words challenging and full of truth. All the best to you as you go engage the beautiful African church. Safari Njema!


      1. Ashley – It is so refreshing to read this comment. I grew up in Pakistan and we sat on the floor divided by men and women with drums, tablas and sitars. It was hot and there were flies and worship was good and hard and real. One of my pet peeves is this idea that the west invented Christianity. Thanks for commenting.


  6. This is so amazingly well written, Marilyn. Its seriously inspiring. and i just wanted to say that the way you write, you make people think and i would love to write like you do. I have always wanted to, but im not good at it. Great blog!


    1. What an affirming comment to begin my day! I had just read this quote from a book about writing that says “the fact that people give us their time every day is a blessing” so I want to thank you and also say that the reason I started blogging is that, like you, I always wanted to write. Didn’t think I was good at it but wanted to give it a try – so if you decide to give it a go let me know, I’d love to read. Thank you so much.


      1. Aww that is VERY sweet of you. And you’re such a good writer, you deserve to be read! Im trying to give it a go. Im too vague a writer so i just came up with a blog but i’m not satisfied with it so i’d like you to read it. I hope you can help me with the ‘vagueness and lack of creativity’ i seem to be having a problem with. :/


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