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.

Nov 2 2012


MashaunI have always wondered, “If and when I had the chance to do one of these blog posts, what would I talk about exactly?” It may sound somewhat arrogant, but since I arrived at Candler I expected that at some point I would be writing for the Enthused Admissions blog. I just sort of expected it. And don’t get me wrong; I am not saying I sought out this opportunity – not at all. However, I just figured the time would come and when it did, what would I have to say. (Maybe I should shut up now and change the subject).

Anyway, so here we are. And, ummm, what am I going to say? There is so much I could talk about: the fact that it is half way through my next to last semester at Candler; or the fact that it is only early November but feels like it should be mid-April/May; or the experiences of being student body president of a Theology school, at this time, during an election year.

But then I think back to where I am right now in my life and what stands out to me is the importance of freedom. On September 22, 2012 I cut off eight years worth of hair. Yes, you read right. For the past eight years I had been growing my hair in locs. I had the idea many years ago while in undergrad; struggled with whether or not I should do, and how it would make me look; and then grew them out. In all, I have had locs for 10 years – growing them once, cutting and starting over a year later.

They were my claim to fame – my crowning glory (no pun intended). They – my hair – had become a part of me. They were part of my identity, and I had invested a lot of energy, time and money into my hairstyle.

Every month I would get them washed and retwisted. During special occasions in my life, or when I just felt like it, I would have them colored and styled in all sorts of designs on the top of my head. They had become my art piece, my form of expressing whom I thought I was. They had become my centerpiece. And then earlier this year, during the summer, I had this idea – maybe I would cut my hair.

No, no, no. Now wait a minute, Mashaun. What are you talking about? Your hair is your hair. You cannot cut it, is what I had told myself several times. And I was not alone. So many people, when I would tell them I was thinking of cutting my hair, would object as if the hair was theirs.

And then in early September, I was ready. I made up my mind, made the appointment and prepared myself for the experience of no longer having a head full of hair. That early afternoon I grabbed a pair of scissors and cut the hair off myself, one-loc-by-one. Much to my surprise, I did not have the emotional moment many people hard warned me about. I did not get emotional. I did not lose my strength like Samson when Delilah cut his hair.

Now, you may be wondering what does any of this have to do with Candler, theology and the past few years of being here in this space. Well, I am glad you asked. I think being here at Candler has prepared me for this moment in my life. I think my being here at Candler has provided me with not just this academic knowledge, practical ministerial skills, and a network of colleagues and lifelong ministerial friends. This experience has brought me closer to the man God created me to be.  This experience has provided me with a level of freedom I did not expect to have.

I came into Candler kicking and screaming with God. I know what happens in my community – the African American community – to people who become minsters, preachers and spiritual leaders. They are expected to be perfect. They are expected to have all of the answers. They are – well everything is expected of them. And I, if we are being honest, have never been excited about that reality.

However, in this time here at Candler my humanity has been validated, while at the same time my divine right has been affirmed. In this process, I have come closer to God’s Mashaun. I have the clarity and the vision now of who I am called to be, where I am to go into the world, and all of the abilities/gifts/skills I possess that can and will be used by God in God’s kingdom.

Candler freed me. Candler freed me so much so that I no longer needed to hide behind eight years of hair.

It all makes perfect sense now…at least to me!

- Mashaun D Simon

Mashaun is a native of Atlanta, GA, a graduate of Kennesaw State University, president of the Candler Coordinating Council, and a Student Ambassador.