Mar 22 2013

A Purpose in the Wrestling

Jacob Wrestles an Angel

Detail of “A Visit” by John August Swanson

The time is drawing nigh.

In just a few weeks we will be bringing to an end our destined journey together.

As these days and weeks sail by, my colleagues and I, well at least some of us, are giving much thought to what’s next.

Many of us are thinking about who we will be once we leave this place. Many of us appear to have it all figured out.

Some of us have plans to go back into the workforce. Some will be leading parishes or parish ministries. Some of us, like myself, will be going into another year of MORE school.

Much of it, these decisions of what is next or what we will be doing next, are centered around this idea of purpose.

What is my purpose? Who am I? Why am I here? What is my gift?

These questions are, to some extent, unavoidable. And recently, these questions were the centering focus of a session in our Howard Thurman course.

They are difficult questions to answer. To an extent, they are overwhelming and intimidating questions to answer. And why wouldn’t they be? We did come here, to this place called the Candler School of Theology to get some clarity, right?

During the session, our guest lecturer, Dr. Gregory Ellison, had us consider these questions in small groups with others. It was what he calls a laboratory experience. The experiment, as I will label it, was not necessarily for us to find any answers, but for us to at least engage them. We were instructed to wrestle, seek and question. But not one time were we instructed to answer them.

In my searching, I had an epiphany.

The story of Jacob comes to mind when considering this process of wrestling. In the 32 chapter of book of Genesis we find Jacob in a series of conundrums. I have always found this story of Jacob to be intriguing because of its imagery and storyline.

He is running, hiding, moving possessions and family and dealing with the result of some choices – he is dealing with life. And eventually he comes across this individual. Different translations say it’s a man. Some say it’s an angel. Some say the individual is God. What is shared by all of the translations is that a wrestling match takes place between the two; Jacob will not let go of the “entity” without a blessing; and then his name is changed.

Jacob walks away from the situation changed. After some wrestling – and determination – he has been changed, made new. He has a new name, but not only that he has this limp. Now, some have come to consider the limp as an impediment. But I consider the limp to be more of a testament. The limp is a lifelong reminder of the experience and how he has overcome.

Now, you may be wondering what any of this means and the point I am trying to make. It is actually quite simple. Dr. Ellison pointed something out in our wrestling with the questions he posed to us on this Thursday, during a session of our Howard Thurman course. And it is something that I believe regarding this story of Jacob, now known as Israel.

There is a purpose in the wrestling.

As my colleagues and I approach the final days of our time here at Candler, we have wrestled and are continuing to wrestle with a vast array of questions. Who are we? Why are we here? What is our purpose?

They are all questions we have come into contact with and I suspect we should continue to come into contact with; and rightfully so, right? But in the wrestling we are changed; we are made different from the experience. And once we are done wrestling with one thing, God blesses us in God’s own way. The blessings may come in the form of epiphany. The blessings may come in the form of answers and greater clarity on the journeys we have embarked.

And there will be scars along the way, scars that will remind us of the experience of wrestling – scars that will heal, but will also serve as the evidence that in some way, we have been touched by God.

We do not always have to have answers. And in reality, the answers are not as important as the experience of wrestling with the questions.

So, I leave this place called the Candler School of Theology renamed and limping, embarking upon a new journey of purpose and intent – wrestling with a new set of questions and seeking God’s blessings along the way.

Won’t you journey with me?

- Mashaun D. Simon

Mashaun is a graduating MDiv student at the Candler School of Theology where we served his final year as President of the Candler Coordinating Council, worked as a Student Ambassador and will be starting a ThM program in the fall in Toronto, Canada.


Sep 28 2011

A call to be MORE

A child of activists, I am learning to embrace the spirit of protest pumping through my veins. I am no Malcolm, neither am I Martin. I am not Fannie Lou, nor am I Diane Nash. I read and write, but I am more than a scholar. I preach and teach, but that’s only part of it all. I am finding my voice as a frustrated mystic. Unsettled by the pain of the world, yet unable to remove myself from it. Humbled, I internalize and process the toxins of others as a daily prayer. In grace, I am cleansed. In the silence of the mind, I am discovering peace and protest. In the solitude of the heart, I find rest and revolution. In the frenzy of life and in the shadow of death, I sought the still moment. In it I found that God desires MORE.

I am MORE.
You are MORE.
We are MORE.
MindfulOutreachRestores&Empowers
deficit thinking yields deficient results.
So, be more.
MORE to come.

I offer this reflection and poem as a call to activist-minded folk who are seeking to find their voice and discover a MORE thoughtful way of being in the world.  I stress being more and not doing more for a reason.  If you are, it will guide what you do.  But what you do, does not predetermine who you are.

Dr. Gregory Ellison II

Dr. Ellison is Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Candler.  His research examines the intersections of pastoral care, personality development, theologies of hope, and marginalized populations. His book-in-progress is a revision of his dissertation, The Unacknowledged Self: A Pastoral Theological Response to Muteness and Invisibility in African American Young Men. His current project is based on his years of counseling youth and young adults transitioning out of correctional facilities.  In 2011, Dr. Ellison received the Candler Faculty Award as voted on by Candler’s student body. Professor Ellison is an ordained Baptist minister.


Nov 19 2010

Finding Strength in Intentional Moments

As we near the end of what is for some of us our first semester in seminary and for others the first semester of their second or last year, I sense a great level of stress and burn out from a number of my colleagues. Whereas many began this journey excited, eager to fulfill their call to be at Candler, and confident in their ability to think and write critically, many are now doubting their competence and are trying to cope with the fact that they may not be receiving the grades in which they are use to receiving. Have we become so consumed with academics, meeting our own high expectations, making A’s, and passing exams at the expense of our well being that we have forgotten the very thing that we should be critically attentive to on this journey? “Self.”

I along with several of my colleagues have been privileged to take Introduction to Pastoral Care and Counseling with a master practitioner and constructivist Dr. Gregory Ellison. This class has played an integral part in rejuvenating my personal faith, regenerating hope, and transforming my spiritual life. One of the most powerful components of this course is the contemplative journey that we embark upon as a class to become more self-aware and reflective as caregivers who consciously give care to self and others.  As we go on pilgrimage with individuals that we know and many of whom we are getting to know while engaging readings surrounding theories and practices of care in pastoral care and related disciplines, students are challenged to not only develop models of care for the unacknowledged groups in which we will serve in ministry, but to begin to be attentive to their own voice and establish for themselves healthy practices of self-care.

Seminary should be a time in which we begin to foster and nurture a rich life in which we can draw strength. Self-awareness and self-care is critical to how pastors and leaders best serve others. One puts themselves and others at risk when self-care is not a priority. In carrying out our preoccupations whether in ministry, studying, or other work, we can divert our attention to the point where there is literally no time for the essential experience of being attentive to self. Yet, the truth is that in order to flourish in our studies, ministry, and other endeavors, we must make time for the experience of centering down and caring for self.

The journey of a Seminarian does not solely involve thinking critically and theologically, wrestling with difficult texts, and developing and critiquing arguments, its also involves one’s intentionality to create moments where they participate in leisure activities and develop spiritual disciplines that will empower them for the tasks above.

For those who are in Dr. Ellison’s course, we know that we are on the last part of our journey where we are returning home, which is symbolic for returning back to familiar places and familiar material, but looking at it with a different perspective. Some of us return home with a profound appreciation for some of the things and people that we left behind on the journey. As I return home for the holidays, I would like to share some of the wisdom that I received while on pilgrimage in this course. Hopefully this will help the rest of my fellow colleagues endure the race until the end of the semester.

  • Our greatest glory is not in ever falling, but in rising every time we fall. (Confucius)
  • It is one thing to be informed about the things that heal you, but it is another thing to give yourself liberally or freely to them.
  • Vocation is a response that a person makes with his or her total self to the address of God and to the calling to partnership. (Katherine Turpin)
  • While ability is important, ones willingness and capacity to be tenacious is what helps them to succeed.
  • So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap a harvest time, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9)

Remember to care for yourself!!!

-Ashley Thomas

Ashley is a first year MDiv student from Atlanta and a Student Ambassador.