by Julie Lunn.
In my last post for this blog, I talked about spiritual writing and described the project I am engaged in at present – which is to look at how women in the Wesleyan tradition articulate faith; both women who wrote their conversion testimonies to Charles Wesley, and how contemporary Wesleyan women articulate their faith today. A few women got in touch as a result of that blog and contributed a text to the project – thank you! Others also contributed from Methodist, Nazarene, and Free Methodist traditions, and I am now in the process of analysing and writing up the data received. So this article is a first indication of how the project is unfolding.
The ultimate aim is to compare similarities and differences in women’s writing from the two periods and examine how theology, faith and spirituality have changed or remained the same within a Wesleyan expression of faith. In addition, indications of significant factors which nurture, strengthen, and promote faith development will be noted and offered to encourage those of us on a journey of faith today.
In response to the request for contributions to the project I received thirty-four submissions, which together amounted to eighty-three pages of text. Being entrusted with this material was a sacred privilege. One participant spoke of trusting me with the work. The material is personal, expressive of intimate relationship with God, and in many cases not originally intended for public view. The submissions which were blogs or written for a magazine had a different voice, deliberately written for an audience, but the majority of texts were not; this was holy ground.
Of the thirty-four participants fifteen submitted extracts from existing spiritual writing – eleven from spiritual journals, two blogs, one letter to a spiritual friend and one from a magazine article. Fourteen submitted one-off accounts written for the project, eight of which were of a specific spiritual experience. Three submitted accounts of their conversion experience and two submitted testimonies. Of the thirty-four participants twenty one keep a spiritual journal as part of their response to faith – ten of whom journal occasionally. Fourteen participants have a spiritual companion, mentor or spiritual director. Seven have a prayer partner or partners. Twenty-six participants have another relationship which assists their spiritual journey – these include friends, a partner, a group e.g. housegroup or Bible Study group, a minister, books or podcasts, and the body of Christ or other Christians.
There were several surprises for me as I read and analysed the texts. One was that I had not expected such a high number of participants to practice the discipline of journaling or to have a spiritual companion or relationship which assists the spiritual journey; but this is deeply encouraging.
Similarly encouraging were the number of contemporary texts which referenced scripture (twenty-two texts) and prayer – twenty-one texts either talked about prayer or included prayer in the text – these features were very similar to the texts from the 18th century women.
The experience of Jesus or another spiritual experience also featured significantly in both sets of texts. The experiences of Jesus received by the 18th century women included a sense of the love of God, peace, and sins forgiven. A number of experiences are visual, with Christ’s sufferings presented, frequently in the context of the service of Holy Communion; or visual experiences of Jesus in glory. The contemporary experiences of Jesus similarly recorded a sense of love, peace, joy, warmth and a sense of presence, and some verge on the physical- ‘seeing’ Jesus’ eyes of love, ‘feeling’ Jesus’ breath on the neck.
Two texts indicate struggle with experiencing Jesus. One is challenged by Jesus’ maleness for her as a woman, drawn instead to the presence of the Spirit. Another speaks being eager to know and please God as a young person, but unable to experience Jesus, ‘I felt like the apostle Peter that I couldn’t go anywhere else-as much as I didn’t get this Christianity life or have any felt experience of Jesus, I felt that He alone held the key…I just didn’t know how to get to Him.’
These texts, in themselves, encourage faith. Their honesty, openness, wisdom, and depth of faith is moving and humbling. As the project continues the process of discovery will I am sure, continue to be one of delight, challenge, and insight for the living of faith today. At this early stage of analysis there are however three key thoughts for reflection:
- What do we actively do to support our spiritual life and growth? Do we make a note of our experiences of God – so we can see over time how God is working with us and within us?
- Who are our companions, encouragers, challengers?
- Do we express ourselves to God in prayer and root our reflections in the text of Scripture?
If we do not do these things yet – why not start?