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 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 him.
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).
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC