Stained glass, Trinity Methodist Church Grand Rapids, MI
This is a tale of two boys who had very similar upbringings. They both had midwest Methodist roots, and were touched by some of the same people. The lived in the same community during the summers, and the families spent time together in the off season. One grew up attending Trinity Methodist, Grand Rapids, MI, and surrounded by ancestral Methodist ministers and culture. The other knew that his great grandmother prophesied to his grandmother that new born Sidney would be a Methodist minister. His family continued in their Methodist tradition in Kokomo, Indiana. Both found an attracti0n to various ideas found in mysticism. Both became involved with the charismatic renewal movement at one point. Both had a leaning toward missions – one toward foreign missions or new church starts, while the other was active in Campus Crusade. Both attended seminary. Each married, one once, the other twice. One has 3 children, the other 4. One entered Methodist seminary and became sidetracked by marriage, but later entered Lutheran seminary. Each read many of the same books They knew each other, although there is 20 some years difference in ages. Each was challenged similarly in seminary, but here the divergence begins.
SIDNEY HALL, III Senior pastor of Trinity UMC, Austin Texas.
A description of Trinity and its ministry may be found in the August 20 post, A Very Different Church.
My experience with Christianity is vast and varied, and it is hard to describe my journey. Of course, I grew up Methodist and I suppose am like Timothy–never really had that huge conversion experience, but grew up nurtured in the faith passed on by my mother and my grandmother. In high school I was very much into campus crusade and the charismatic movement. Their language made Jesus accessible, not just a figure of history or some mysterious presence, but kind of like a compassionate hippie (minus the LSD). That’s what I needed. However, my personal experience of God was almost always through nature. As a young boy I had long walks alone in the woods at our house in Kokomo, nights alone sitting on the dock in Bay View, canoeing with friends in the boundary waters of northern Minnesota and sleeping under the stars at night. It wasn’t until I read Tillich in college that I was able to put a name to what I was experiencing: Panentheism. Theism, of course, is that God is out there, up there, transcendent (The church dealt with this by talking about Jesus, the Son, who is God’s immanence), and Pantheism, that God is nature or nature is God. Neither fit me and I was always frustrated with the either/or. Then I read about Panetheism–the idea that God is in all things and all things are infused with God, but the sum of those things together still does not equal God. Later, Matthew Fox’s work gave me a language for it that wasn’t so heady–creation-centered spirituality. Even though I feel like Fox is a sloppy theologian, he introduced me to the creation-centered mystics such as Francis of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Pelagius, Irenaeus of Lyons, Julian of Norwich, etc…and those who operate with the same creation-centered outside of Christianity like Rumi, Black Elk, Thich Nhat Hanh, etc. Many of the mystics such as Francis, were labeled pagan heretics by their more theistic contemporaries. Francis’ Brother Sun and Sister Moon was condemned in the church as nature worship. But Francis claimed to the end that he did not worship nature; he simply saw God’s face in the “little ones” and “the least of these”–a blade of grass, a sunrise, and of course, the poor and disconnected. Mystical Christianity provides a way for me to experience the same alive Christianity that I felt when I was involved in Campus Crusade and the Charismatic movement, but with a more liberal/universal theological base.
Anyway, so here’s how my grandmother Hall fits into all this. She was the one who told me stories of faith as a child and was always encouraging me. But one incident stands out above them all: One night while sitting alone on the dock in Bay View (I must have been 14) I saw the Northern Lights for the first time. I had studied about them in school so knew what they were from a scientific perspective, but the experience of them was altogether different. They were so beautiful and I just started crying. Later, I went back to the cottage to tell my grandmother but she was asleep. The next morning I shared my experience with my grandma and told her that it was like nothing I’d ever felt before–that I felt God completely filling me and that I felt connected to everything that was, is, or ever will be. My grandmother took my hand and said, “Sidney, when you grow up you’re going to be a Methodist minister.” I siad, “How do you know?” She said that she’s known since I was a little boy. She told me that when my father was born her mother, Nora Huett, told her that little Sidney is going to grow up and be a Methodist minister. Grandma said that she felt her mother had a premonition except she was off one generation of Sidneys. Then my grandma reached into her desk drawer and handed me her mother’s bible. She said, “This is the most precious thing my mother owned. I’ve been saving it for you.” Of course, I still have that bible and I did what my grandmother told me to do: I became a Methodist minister. In a very real sense, that conversation was my calling and my ordination wrapped into one (not official ordination of course, but ordination in the shamanic sense). And…she was right. I love what I do and feel that it is exactly where God has called me to be.
I don’t tell that story too often, but since you knew my grandmother, you could see how this is something that fits with who she was. I feel so blessed to have been loved and nurtured in this way, and by such a remarkable woman.
ADDENDUM: Feel free to put my story out there and contrast it with your own. What makes me smile is knowing that your mother and my grandmother drew from the same well as children. No matter how divergent our own paths have become we would not be where we are had it not been for the love and nurturing that was drawn from our common well.
As for Jesus, I don’t see him let as savior (at least in the sense of redemption of sins), but more in the sense of embodiment. As you know, the early church had many different understandings of Jesus’ resurrection. I like Paul’s idea that the church–when it was walking the talk of Jesus–became his body, his living presence in the world. For me, Jesus is not so much a being I believe in, but an embodiment I am to become. I like Teresa of Avila’s description:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.
This to me in Christ’s resurrection, his presence with us now. So, even though my understanding of atonement doesn’t line up with Augustine, it is very represented in some of the church’s mystics, especially those who followed the more Celtic Christian understanding such as Pelagius.
BRUCE KIRKPATRICK retired Anglican priest, Missionary Society of St. John the Evangelist, ACNA
I discovered I loved ritual and ceremony at a Swedish Lutheran church in Evanston, IL. I went to their service to try and understand Lutherans. My girlfriend was Slovak Lutheran, and it was a serious relationship. (We’ve been married 48 years to date.) I bailed out of Methodist seminary to elope and move to Indianapolis as an insurance agent. One years later, a new daughter in hand, we moved to Ohio and a Lutheran seminary.
Two children now, our first pastorate was rural Indiana, town of 568 people. After two years plus, moved to a mission congregation near Gary, In. We spent 6 years here, and became involved with the charismatic renewal toward the end. We left there to move to The Word of God, an ecumenical Catholic charismatic community in Ann Arbor, Mi. Here our last child was born. I worked mainly in a niche market as a travel agent, group tours. mostly to the Holy Land. Travel was easy and cheaply available, and different customs and sights around the world broadened my horizons. It emphasized for me how Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, and less often, other Christian groups went about their Christianity. It also touched many other religions. Mainly in Singapore, India, Australia, Egypt, and Israel, I gathered a deep appreciation for things Orthodox and Catholic. The sense of the threads of history in the church took on a new importance.
This period ended when we moved to Port Huron, MI to be part of a new protestant work. For some years we traveled the independent protestant wilderness. Only in mid 1990’s did we find our way out. A fellow church worker from Port Huron had left to become an Episcopal missionary to the Southern Cone in South America. Today, he is a friend, and Orthodox priest. Back then, on a fund raising trip, he mentioned a church about 55 miles away we should attend. Finally we did, and discovered that we had finally come home. This group and its bishop became our current Anglican home, and now has membership in the ACNA. It is fully liturgical, evangelical, and charismatic (in a very full way). It is here that I retired from active ministry, and am now our congregation’s equivalent of the “practice squad’s quarterback”, used if desperately necessary. My participation at St. John the Apostle Anglican Church, (links available on the blog), the Missionary Society of St. John the Evangelist, and the ACNA has given me a strong identity. I can sense and examine the line of clergy and laity who have gone before me since the time of Jesus and the apostles. I am part of the Christian Church in ways I had not been before. I am indeed home, and rooted in the orthodox faith of our fathers.
note: Sid’s Grandmother Hall was my Mother’s maid of honor at her marriage to my Dad. We called them aunt and uncle, although not related by blood.
SOME BROAD GENERALIZATIONS ABOUT MYSTICISM.
Mystics seek intimate knowledge of the divine which goes beyond rational and intellectual thought. and are interested in the experience of the sacred in a direct, intuitive, and intense way.
They search in themselves for something that is in common with the divine. Some aspect of themselves, or the totality of their being, that corresponds to or is akin to God.
As they find the divine in themselves, they often regard the whole of nature as an opportunity for discovering the sacred.
Mystics usually practice varied disciplines and methods in their search.
COMMENTS ARE SOLICITED AND WELCOMED BY BOTH BOYS.