Disparate Thoughts on Generals and Birds

Through the providential collusion of streams of my life, I find myself visiting London a few days prior to taking a week-long course on the spirituality and theology of the Wesleys; meanwhile, at the same time I am joining with others in “141 Days of Wesley” to read through all of Wesley’s sermons.

I think it impossible to consider the legacy of Wesley and not contemplate how events of his life contributed to the development of his faith and the movement he led. Indeed, throughout the week we have reflected on the likely lingering impact of his mother, Susanna, on John’s disciplined spirituality.

And throughout the week, I’ve contemplated what might “be next” for me. After all, part of our decision for me to attend this summer course was to consider Cliff College and the University of Manchester as a possible joint location to begin pursuing a PhD focused around Wesleyan studies. At one point, amid the flurry of mental questions and anxieties about such a change, a significant thought occurred to me:

If there had not been a General Oglethorpe to invite the two Wesleys to Savannah, would John have had the formative experiences he had (e.g. during the storm with the Moravians)? Without that invitation of another to lead him in the direction God was clearly going to inspire/move him, would the Methodist movement have ever been what it became?

We can not underestimate the importance of the sense of assurance that Wesley experienced because of his interaction with his Moravian brothers and sisters; nor would the famed Aldersgate experience have occurred for him as it did were it not for the continued mentoring relationship he had with Peter Bohler upon returning to London. And all of these were in one way or another connected to Wesley’s acceptance of Oglethorpe’s invitation to Georgia.

So I wonder if and from what quarter God may issue the next invitation to me to consider following…  Who and where might my general be?

***

It was evening, in that leisurely time between dinner and sleep, when a group of us gathered on the rooftop terrace. We sat around in conversation: me (the [at the time!] quiet American); P–, a retired commander from the Nigerian army turned preacher; M–, an evangelical Irishman; a woman from Sri Lanka; and a few Britons, Methodists and a Baptist.

I came to the conversation late, actually. P– and M– both seemed particularly and passionately engaged with one another in conversation. It seems it began rooted around the call of God and the care (particularly financial) of ministers. P– spoke passionately about giving up quite a bit, and trusting in God’s providence. M–’s conversation, however, seemed to be more cynical of the Church, and it actually struck me as a bit of self-promotion – especially when he spoke of having found favor with a former captain of the IRA.

All the while, there was a family of birds – sparrows or starlings, I think – nestling in under the eaves for the night. As the men’s conversation shifted from seeming to give witness to God’s providence to criticisms of the church and others, the birds chirped and sang.

And it reminded me of a lesson of St. Francis, how he once encouraged the birds of the air to go about their business, chirping and singing, as it was their act of giving glory to God.

As these two passionate and opinionated men talked – and most of us just sat by quietly during this time – it occurred to me that I would hope that my conversation might be more like the singing of the birds; that my words might give witness to God and not my own promotion or opinions…

…though, I fear, all-too-often my conversation is likely as vain or seemingly opinionated to others.

And then today, a few days after this experience, I read Wesley’s sermon 12, “The Witness of Our Own Spirit” based upon 2 Corinthians 1:12. And in this sermon, Wesley writes several related words that I thought I would share:

As soon as ever the grace of God in the former sense, his pardoning love, is manifested to our souls, the grace of God in the latter sense, the power of his Spirit, takes place therein. And now we can perform, through God, what to man was impossible. Now we can order our conversation aright. We can do all things in the light and power of that love, through Christ which strengtheneth us. We now have “the testimony of our conscience,” which we could never have by fleshly wisdom, “that in simplicity and godly sincerity, we have our conversation in the world.

Wesley writes that this is the true ground of a Christian’s joy – not only knowing holy conversation (and life) but being enabled, by the Spirit of God, to that very thing!

Once again, I am alerted to the fact that my journey is not complete, but that the commands and expectations of our Lord are also his promises! My conversation – and yours! – can become as glorifying to God as the singing of the birds.

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