What Did this Journey Mean?
As the only student on my recent learning journey who was not seeking ordination as a deacon or elder in the church, it caused me to go deeper and seek confirmation from God regarding my call. I do remain confirmed in the path that I am taking, or that God has put before me. The path I am on is a path that seeks to gain trust and connect with people both inside and outside the walls of the church by pursuing my Certification in Spiritual Formation. Even after this journey with others on the ordination path, I feel confirmed as laity. I feel called to help people seek and find peace in their life amidst the turmoil and distress of this life both inside of and outside of the walls of the church.
I am not called to be the church; I am called to the parts of the church. I am called to help people find their hearts strangely warmed as John Wesley did when his experience with God went from a head experience to a heart experience at Aldersgate. I am called to help us return to the roots of how this church was brought to America. The irony here is that John Wesley was escaping church as he knew it to start a different kind of church. He wanted to offer healing and wholeness to people through a personal relationship with God. We must look at our history and realize that today we are the agents of change. This means answering the call of connecting people to their relationship with God, not the church. This was never the intent. I am called to take it from head knowledge to heart knowledge.
Ironically, I think my story and experience with God has been opposite of that of John Wesley. I feel like I came to know God through my heart first and now God has called me to learn more about him with my head. You see, both are important. The way of salvation is to have God in our hearts. Knowing God in our heads will not give us the kind of relationship we can have with God in our hearts. I believe that knowing about God makes knowing God in your life even more meaningful. Everything that happens in your life is Spiritual Formation. Opening your eyes to see it as such is what makes all the difference. I hope I can walk alongside that path with others whose eyes are being opened so they can too feel their hearts “strangely warmed”. We must stop doing church and just be God’s church. This may look like new ways of being the hands and feet of Christ. It may look like self care, covenant groups, social justice, Sabbath time, missions, or worship.
As I was concluding these thoughts, the word “United” on the front of my hymnal jumped out at me in a new way. We are United. We are a United church. The United Methodist Church is just the means in which I have chosen to accept and live out my faith. It is not my identity because my identity is that of a child of God. This time of learning was a reminder of why I have chosen to answer God’s call on my life to walk with people on their spiritual journeys. It reminded me of the importance of community and of learning from our mistakes. It gives me passion to rejuvenate God’s people in historical and ancient ways. The connection is essential. I look to our Lord for the hope to share that peace, for the Lord is the lover of my soul.
Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
Oh, receive my soul at last.
Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.
Wilt Thou not regard my call?
Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall--
Lo! on Thee I cast my care.
Reach me out Thy gracious hand!
While I of Thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand,
Dying, and behold, I live.
Thou, O Christ, art all I want,
More than all in Thee I find;
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
Heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is Thy Name,
Source of all true righteousness;
Thou art evermore the same,
Thou art full of truth and grace.
Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound;
Make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art,
Freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart;
Rise to all eternity.
“Jesus, Lover of My Soul”
Charles Wesley, 1740
If Trees Could Talk
As our church history course began to wind down, we headed to the site of the Battle of Gettysburg and gained a greater understanding for the stance of the church (or lack thereof) during this time in our country’s history. We learned about Methodists fighting on both sides for what they thought was true freedom. This visit to Gettysburg was overwhelming for me. It started early and rainy. Each of the days of our journey through Philadelphia, Baltimore and Lancaster had been clear and sunny. However, this day began with a very dreary (and appropriate) undertone. It was nice to enjoy an entire seat on the bus alone for the ride and have some quiet time after so much fellowship. I had so many more questions to process at the conclusion of my week of learning. These were not questions about salvation or dates of church history. These were questions that do not have answers. I began to ask God about the hurtful things we do to one another as humans as we journeyed toward the battlefield.
I was listening to Love Divine (Charles Wesley hymns) that morning as I journaled my thoughts. And, I was simply overcome with emotion. It was raining and cold. It was early and I was sad. I honestly didn’t (and still don’t) understand how we could miss something so wrong (both sides thought they were right) and fight to the death of thousands of men. And, yet we seem to still be doing it today. God, “deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13) was the only prayer I could think to pray. I thought of these solders who gave their life for what they believed and my thoughts brought me to asking God to have the confidence and the hope to give my all for what I believe, for allowing me to give my all to find peace in my own life with the Creator.
Romans 8:24 says, “We were saved in hope, if we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see?” (CEB). Lord, I can’t see peace. But, you can see peace. You see it for our souls and for our world. I can only hope that I get a glimpse because your ways are bigger than my ways.
The words of Abraham Lincoln give me great hope also. Not long after the battle of Gettysburg in a public letter to James Conkling Lincoln stated this, “Peace does not appear so distant as it did. I hope it will come soon, and come to stay; and so come as to be worth the keeping in all future time” (www.millercenter.org). From the site of President Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address that day we experienced a powerful message. Our professor preached in Gettysburg and proclaimed the word to give us each hope on that somber day. He called us to wake up. Wake up! We must wake up from the slumber of our lives. But, in so many sad ways, we must also be thankful for the atrocity of Gettysburg. For as I’ve learned during this journey, life (and our history) may be painful at times, but each pivotal and painful experience we learned about during our travels has had a great impact on our lives today where we are all free to learn, worship and serve together. Wake up, wake up. It is up to us to wake up our congregations, our neighbors, the world and even ourselves.
Often times I reflect and ponder this question with God, why won’t you let me sleep Lord? It would be so much easier, wouldn’t it? Why can’t I just escape and not care about making a difference? Wake up, wake up, I hear his nudge. And, I am called to wake others up then. Wake up, wake up. My heart overflowed with tears that day of my sadness and they dropped down my face. I tried to hold them back but honestly, I just wanted to scream, to lament as the Psalmists. I was a mess this day and I only had more questions. I looked around the battlefield where the soldiers were buried in mass and pondered more questions, seeking that hope I cannot see. If the trees in that field could talk, what stories would they tell? I am sad because of the loss of life and for our broken spirits. I was overwhelmed by all I hadn’t taken the time to learn about those who fought for this freedom. Yet I was mad because of what we did and what we are still doing today. Wake up, wake up.
I think the trees were talking to me. It may sound odd, but it seemed like I could hear the moans. I felt the souls. There were no answers on that battlefield and indeed I am not the first to feel the pain, sadness and sorrow of fighting to the death for something you believe in and are willing to put your life on the line for at any cost. I wish the trees could tell me what they saw and what hope they have for what is to come. If they could talk, I think they may tell us of the soldiers who came to one another’s aid in times of crises those days. They may tell us of the townspeople who sheltered and cared for the wounded. I think they would tell us that today we can wake up and put down our weapons of destruction, weapons like words and arrogance and pride and hate and anger. We can wake up and pray for peace and love in eternity because this earth will not reveal it to us without hope for the future. Let us wake up and find understanding through our troubles. “We also have joy with our troubles, because we know that these troubles produce patience. And patience produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4 NLT). Wake up, my friends. Let's wake up.
A Mother's Methods
Since I began studying Methodism in America and learned more this summer of the church's early roots from John and Charles Wesley, I continued to be drawn back to Susanna Wesley. As I heard hymns anew and listened to the teachings of John on my trip, I was intrigued by these men and yet still longed to know even more than I already have learned about this woman, their mother.
Her methods were precise. Her timing was intricate. Her patience was immeasurable. Her letters and journal entries model for us her life and the life of learning she encouraged for her children. I have a longing to connect with this woman who as a mother made a difference in this world in a huge way without being ordained in the church. She did what was before her. She answered the call to the nineteen children in her life. She trained her children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6). It seems the model she set in her home had a great impact on Methodism and the church we know today as the United Methodist Church. Many of the hymns we sing and the small groups that are formed in churches all across our country are also inspired by these men and their upbringing. The impact of this woman cannot be measured by her duty to the church as much as it can be measured by her duty as a parent. This is an important reminder to me as a parent serving in ministry. I can never forget that my greatest mission field is inside my own home.
Whitney R. Simpson
yoga & meditation teacher
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Whitney R. Simpson
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC