The Wesley Journal
When I set out to serve as the Editor of the Wesley Journal, I never thought it would be a space that seminarians, faculty, staff and the Wesley community would use to articulate the dimensions of living faithfully as seminarians, pastors, leaders, educators, and co-collaborators in creation. I thought and discerned the theme as I found myself challenged by the multiple pandemics, seminary education in an online environment, abandon and adaptation of long committed spiritual practices, transitions in responsibilities and roles, and what feels like at times and upending of the universe.
While the Wesley Journal has been a more traditional graduate journal, our times call for the journal to be more open to expression through poetry, reflection, prayer, litany, and more. The scope of this journal as an anthology of the wrestle we encounter in community and in theological education is deeply rooted in discerning the next most faithful step for the Wesley Journal. I hope you allow the words, stanzas, paragraphs, and prose of those who contributed to this issue to wash over you and provoke you to reflect on the ways you experience truth and tension in your living.
I want to name the tension of theological education in the midst of realities that create separation between our religious, spiritual, and physical selves. Truths are illuminated, voices become echoes that invade our consciousness, theologies are challenged, and wrestling leaves us empty and broken. Yet God is a mender of minds, hearts, spirits, and bodies. May you make yourself available to mending power of God’s presence in your loneliness, the Holy Spirit’s comfort in your pain, Jesus’ power in your hopelessness, and God’s nature to heal, restore and renew creation in your brokenness, grief, and frustration.
Amen & Ase
LEADER: Lord God Almighty, Scripture says we can cast our anxieties on you.
People: We are deeply disturbed and confused; we feel emotional and spiritual distress.
LEADER: God of Righteousness, concern bounces around the edges of our mind; we try, unsuccessfully, to ignore it.
People: So, we come to you for assurance and comfort.
LEADER: Yet January 6, 2021, sits in our memory like an acre of briars.
People: If not already Christians, would we become one today?
LEADER: They prayed inside the Capitol,
People: Then, they disbanded to their insurrection.
LEADER: Some carried Bibles; others wore tee shirts professing Christ.
People: They weren’t Representatives or Senators, staff, or police.
LEADER: Troubled, some wonder how those who don’t know God see you after the actions of some who profess to be your children.
People: Christians remind one another that you forgive us although we fall short.
LEADER: You call each of us to account for our choices and behaviors.
People: These were rioters, insurrectionists, people who believed what was false.
LEADER: You are a God of order and truth.
People: How do we explain these images to those who have lost faith in You?
LEADER: You have gifted us humans with free will, allowing even Christians to choose immoral, lawless, sinful, and dangerous behavior.
People: After prayer and solitude, we are still troubled. SELAH
LEADER: Where is the voice of your Church?
People: Almighty God, show us that those insurrectionists were wrong.
LEADER: Embarrassed by the Bible-toting, tee-shirt-wearing traitors, we are Christians who believe your word of justice and proclaim the love of Christ.
People: Lord, intervene in this situation. we know you are a God who intervenes in trades of deception.
LEADER: Let the world see that you are sovereign.
People: Then those who don’t know you will see your good, faithful, and just nature and seek your face.
LEADER: And we will say, Amen! Our sovereign God is righteous and just.
People: We will praise your holy name and will witness to anyone that only the light of Christ can push out darkness – even today’s gloom.
ALL: We declare these things through the mighty name of Jesus. Amen!
Judy Pelham, Ph.D., is a First-Year Masters Student at Wesley Seminary, has a passion for integrating writing with psychology and Christianity.
Rev. Keisha R. Dukes, MDiv Student, Student Pastor, Pocomoke City, Md. Developing womanist who is passionate about the voices of the youth, missional church development, and integrating theology with the arts.
The summer of 2020. I will forever recall it as the summer that could have been. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a church leader told me, "I know you wear a mask, but I trust Jesus. I am not scared of da Rona." I was incensed, and various responses quickly formed in my mind, yet I opted to remain silent. My tongue can cut, so to stay holy, it was best for no words to leave my mouth.
The truth is, I trust Jesus, and I believe in science, medicine, and public health. I trust Jesus can heal all of our soul's diseases, and I think our Creator gifted scientists and clinicians with the knowledge that continues to save the lives of many.
As an infectious disease epidemiologist, I am a public health professional. Early in my career, I worked for a local health department where my responsibilities included educating the public about bacterial infections like shigella or vibrio or salmonella or mycobacterium tuberculosis; writing emergency preparedness plans; and, monitoring the county's levels of reportable diseases for upticks that might be precursors to potential outbreaks. We looked for patterns and trends in disease levels, sought to understand why certain illnesses were more prevalent in the community than others, and ultimately developed solutions to protect the health and well-being of those we served. Those were great days.
In this season of pandemic, God called me to serve in a different way. While I no longer work in a public health department setting, as one called to ministry in the church, I feel an even greater sense of responsibility to care for those whom God has placed in my midst. That is why the insinuation that wearing a mask reflected my lack of faith in the Divine One bothered me so deeply.
Considering my professional knowledge and personal opinion, wearing a mask in the time of a respiratory pandemic is a beautiful demonstration of one's faith and love for humanity. Wearing a face covering is a way Christians can bring life to the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew's Gospel, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"
To truly love my neighbor as myself, wearing a mask seems like a simple request and a small act of compassion. I do not want to catch the coronavirus, nor do I want anyone I love dearly to face the lasting effects of this virus or its accompanying illnesses. Unfortunately, it seems that American culture has normalized high infection numbers. Sadly, Christians are among those who dismiss the guidance offered by scientists and public health professionals.
Existing in the tension between truth and desire does not always feel good. Like many others, I long to return to my usual routine. Going out to listen to live music on a Friday evening, attending a large family gathering, or taking an extended vacation would put an infectious smile on my face. Walking into the sanctuary or chapel and hearing the choir singing would offer a refreshing mist in this season of drought and gloom. I want to feel shouts of praise from the congregation as the preacher delivers a stirring sermon, but I also want to trust Jesus in this valley moment. More importantly, perhaps, I want to love my neighbors as myself. For me, this means I will wear a mask, I will remain distanced from people whom I love dearly, and I will embrace the change of pace that we have been gifted with at this moment in time. I trust Jesus brought us to this time of pandemic, and in due season, He will lead us out as well.
Dawn M. Wayman is in her final year of the Master of Divinity program at Wesley Theological Seminary. She received her Master of Health Science in Infectious Disease Epidemiology from The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Wesley has reaffirmed Dawn’s passion to help young adults form their faith and personal theology, primarily through meeting them where they are and showing them God’s love.
A Disabling Lent Devotional
“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed into the Heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our profession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16 (21st Century King James Version)
I am an empath. Even prior to learning the language of the empath and the even more detailed six types of the empath, I now realize that I was an empath from childhood. I am such an empath, that my sensibilities and sensitivities traverse between that of the emotional empath, physical/medical empath, and intuitive empath. (The other three major empath types to which I do not readily identify are the geomantic empath, plant empath, and animal empath.)
For instance, as young as in kindergarten I befriended “the girl who walked funny” because she wore metal braces and used odd looking crutches. Always tall for my age, I remember telling her to hang on to my back instead of use her crutches when we went to lunch and recess. I don’t remember her name, but the sound of her metal braces and crutches are sacred memories; and I recall the odd way we walked in sync as she hugged my waist from behind. I never knew, or cared, why she wore braces, I just knew that I could help her be more normal standing in line and walking to the swings. When we returned after Summer break to first grade, she was no longer at our school. Still, this lingers decades later as a defining moment in my life as a helper--a primary characteristic of an empath.
Fast forward many years ahead helping others in various ways, I was appointed to be the Pastor of Prayer Ministries at a megachurch. What a perfect job for an emotional/intuitive empath! In that role, I found myself prayerfully bearing the burdens of others in a spiritual way like I had carried the body of my young friend in braces. I never knew what person would come to the altar or which prayer request would come across my desk, still, I seemed to have the right words--not just trite scripture quoting--to speak comfort, clarity, and care. Sometimes, we were close enough for me to touch them as we prayed; other times, a lengthy phone call or hand-written prayer sufficed. Most often we shed tears and shared boxes of tissue. I was clear that I was called to this ministry at which being an empath proved to be a good vessel through which the Holy Spirit could comfort others. However, regardless of my awareness of being an empath, my type fails in comparison to the Divine Empath, Jesus Our High-Priest!
How often have we heard that Jesus was fully human and fully divine? This apologetic is usually recited when trying to explain that when Jesus wept, slept, got angry, and made wine for a party, that these human experiences were not anthropomorphic. Instead, Jesus was living a fully human experience with a definite divine calling. As he agonized on the Cross, Jesus’ last cries sounded very much like our human prayers of concern, distress, and plea. Now, Jesus’ disabled body would be the last image of him the crowd of onlookers saw that day. The Most Divine Empath assumed our physical disabilities and spiritual infirmities. Jesus’ broken body was the holy sacrifice that made all who believed one with him.
Our High Priest, unlike other cultural deities, is not formed by hand out of matter or imagined by sages. These could not phyisiologically know the human experience of broken relationship or broken body. But, Our High Priest, who was at the beginning before the beginning began intimately knew the limits of bodily suffering and disabled anguish. Jesus was in touch with what touched us! That is the good news! Therefore, when we gaze upon the cross, amidst some valid albeit competing narratives, might we see Jesus’ disabled body as essential to a community called to grace, mercy, and justice?
The word to able-bodied persons would be to not sin by looking away from the visual anguish and inconveniences of the disabled body just as Jesus did not abandon us in the Garden of Gesthsemene, on the Via Dolorosa, or from the Cross at noontime. Yes, yes, the temptation to simply take care of disabled persons may seem to be benevolence; however, reconsider that the disabled person is sent to care for you with reciprocity. The temptation to find the loophole in the law to not make churches and public buildings radically inclusive may be cost efficient; however reconsider that keeping disabled persons out of buildings is a way of keeping us out of sight and out of mind. These are not choices Jesus would make. These are not the choices Jesus made with his broken body on display. Our High Priest, even while disabled, showed aptitude for carrying out his calling and fulfilling his purpose.
The word to disabled persons is that Jesus knows when social systems fail us. Jesus knows when medical treatment is withheld. Jesus knows the agony of pain and the longing for deliverance. Jesus knows abject loneliness, public scrutiny, and openly displayed humiliation. Still, Jesus did not lose focus that he was not his mangled, maligned, and disabled body--he knew he came to the world that the world might be saved! The disabled body is part of the message of salvation. It was this Disabled Body upon which full inclusion into a restored relationship between humanity and God was established. It was through this disabled body that grace came to a mother, mercy to a repentant thief, and justice for us all. Even while tempted to look away from the Cross, hold your gaze upon the disabled body of Jesus the Divine Empath and see yourself as an agent of the message of salvation.
Together then, let us learn from Jesus the Divine Empath to show mercy and to be grace one to another regardless of how our bodies are framed.
Sure, disabled people move too slow, need too much, and get in the way. Disabled people also afford others a pace to be more present, create ways to improve the quality of life, and are children of God. What you see in those within reach reflects how you ultimately view the sacrifice of the Divine Disabled Empath. You will either look for the grace in us or risk losing the mercy this is to be found to include us in the life of the church and accessibility in culture.
Jesus our Savior and Brother models for us the ultimate life of the Empath. For carrying our burdens of separation and exclusion, we have come to know that carrying the burdens of accessibility and inclusion is holy work. May we hear rebuke of the church espousing community without disabled persons in full communion and may we become the empath church that radically includes disabled persons in the next chapters of our church’s story. Amen.
Rev. Raedorah C. Stewart, MA is the Director of the Writing Center and is completing the DMin, in Story and Spirituality at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.
The last liturgy over which I presided in Oxnam Chapel was Ash Wednesday, approximately one year ago. We gathered – those of us still on campus before spring break – for a short time of breaking open the words of Sacred Scripture and breaking bread together in Holy Communion. We gathered to begin the traditional Lenten journey by recognizing our frail humanity with ashes and by acknowledging the mercy and grace of God, who meets us in word, bread, and wine. We imagined together how the forty days of Lent – a period in which we undertake the three spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving – could be for us forty days of intense spiritual searching to find and embody the wonderful truth of God’s compassion for humankind.
Little did I know that this would be my last liturgy in Oxnam Chapel for many months. Little did any of us know that we were on the verge of a “Lent” much longer than forty days. As we received our ashes and set out into the wilderness with Christ, we may as well have been setting out with the ancient Israelites for forty years of wandering in the desert!
When we prepared for the season of Lent last year, many of us considered sacrificing some small habit or preference, and many of us committed ourselves to making a special effort to help those in need. Some of us even considered giving up a little extra sleep to spend more time with God in prayer. None of us, however, intended to sacrifice our daily routines for the sake of other people. None of us planned to become “prisoners” for the sake of the gospel. And yet, amid the tensions of the past year, our small Lenten disciplines have helped us to live and to endure and, yes, even to seek God’s truth in the time of Covid.
Every year, when we commit ourselves to our Lenten disciplines, we do so not only for our own sake, but also for the good of our neighbor. And every year, our ashes remind us not only of our own frail humanity, but also of the frailty – and preciousness – of each human life with which we come into contact.
Last year, our experience of Lent was different from usual. We began the season by planning to make certain small sacrifices, such as not buying coffee from a shop, but within a couple of weeks we all gave up a great deal more. We chose to give up trips, to give up seeing friends, and to give up spending time in person with our families. Why did we do this? We did it for the sake of others. We did it for our parents, for our grandparents, for our co-workers, for our parishioners, and for countless strangers who we will never have the chance to meet. We did it for our friends and neighbors who, like us, are not only creatures of dust but also made “in the image of God.” Our jump between a small discipline and a greater imitation of Christ was thus made not over the course of a lifetime but within a matter of days.
As the pandemic has continued, we have continued to live in this tension between safety and solidarity, between health and hospitality, between holiness and health – and it has felt to me like the longest Lent I have ever experienced. And yet, if we take a bit of a spiritual inventory, perhaps in the course of this last year we have received the grace to enter this year’s Lent with certain kinds of wisdom that might otherwise have taken us a whole lifetime to gain. With this new perspective, this new awareness of the frailty and preciousness of human life, we can ask once again, as we do every year: What disciplines would you have me undertake, God? How can I grow in my relationship with you? And how can I grow in the love that I show for my neighbor?
As we undertake our preparation to celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ, let us once again ground our Lenten disciplines of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer in the great mercy and compassion of God, who has opened our eyes to our profound interconnectedness, to the preciousness of our neighbor’s life, and to our utter dependence on the boundless grace of our Savior.
Rev. Dr. Anna Adams Petrin is Assistant Professor of Worship and Chapel Elder at Wesley. She is is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and a scholar who specializes in the history and practice of Christian worship.is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and a scholar who specializes in the history and practice of Christian worship.