Listening for the melody of God

Through pain and joy, despair and panic, when you are so utterly exhausted that you wonder if your way is hidden from God, just be real. Embrace your journey.

And don't forget to sing.

That was the message that the Rev. Connie Shelton, senior pastor of Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church, a multiracial downtown church in Jackson, Miss., shared with a gathering of senior adults.

Hundreds flocked to Myrtle Beach on Feb. 7-9 for the United Methodist South Carolina Annual (regional) Conference's Older Adults Spiritual Life Retreat. Craving some winter sunshine and spiritual rejuvenation, attendees cried, laughed and sang with Shelton as she led them through funny and sometimes heartbreaking stories.

"Let the walls down and take the masks off," Shelton implored the crowd, reminding people it is OK to admit they are not doing fine, OK to stop the pretense and simply lean on each other.

In Shelton's opening message, she challenged attendees to "be real" with each other over the next few days. After all, she said, with authenticity comes a deeper, more fruitful way to experience life - and Christ.

Shelton recounted the time she was serving as a guest preacher and her then-4-year-old daughter, Bailey, disappeared from sight. Loud snickers began to resound, and she was horrified when she discovered her daughter at the Communion table, "double-dipping in the juice." While the congregation took it in stride, she was aghast and tried to salvage the moment by tying it in with a Scriptural lesson about the open table.

"But everyone knew what I was doing," she recalled, shaking her head ruefully at the memory. "And in that moment I realized Christ had salvaged the moment."

Being real with each other

She learned instantly that being real with each other is not only OK but good and well for people's collective soul. "Many times we stay in the embryo position, so concerned about who is looking, that we don't even reach out for help," Shelton said.

"Listen for the constant, empathetic melody of God in everything we experience - then learn to lift up that melody through music and song." - The Rev. Connie Shelton

But God knows our pain. God knows we all suffer. And if we are all suffering, we can lean on each other - if we can be authentic enough to admit what we are going through. "There is something about somebody crying with you that makes a difference," Shelton said.

But in that realness, she said, we need to learn, not only to accept, but also embrace our trials, our pain, our hopes and our fears. Part of that embracing is learning to listen.

Shelton urged the crowd to open their ears and listen for the constant, empathetic melody of God in everything we experience - then learn to lift up that melody through music and song. So many times, she said, music can be a healing comfort when all the words in the world mean nothing.

'Pay attention to songs'

Once, a dear friend called her in panic because her son was very ill far away, and she was torn apart inside by anxiety. Grasping at solutions, Shelton offered a suggestion to her friend: Go to the piano, pick up a hymnal and start playing.

Later, her friend told her that she played through every song in that hymnal, and by the time she was finished, she knew peace.

"Pay attention to songs that bubble up within you," Shelton said.

Flo Johnson, one of the attendees, said Shelton's words especially resonated with her.

"I'm blessed to be in a church where we are real, honest and open with each other, not 'playing' church but truly 'being' church," Johnson said. "Being real with each other is so important, especially as we age. We all need to do more of that."

*Connor is editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or [email protected].


Like what you're reading? Support the ministry of UM News! Your support ensures the latest denominational news, dynamic stories and informative articles will continue to connect our global community. Make a tax-deductible donation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.

Sign up for our newsletter!

UMNEWS-SUBSCRIPTION
Mission and Ministry
Tim Tanton (center, in red), chief news and information officer for United Methodist Communications, shares updates with African communicators and other UMCom staff during the 2019 General Conference. World Press Freedom Day, observed May 3, commemorates journalists and highlights the difficulties they face while reporting truth. File photo by Kathleen Barry, UM News

World Press Freedom Day and the church

Tim Tanton with United Methodist News talks about giving voice to the voiceless and why freedom of information is essential not only for society but for the church.
Evangelism
The Rev. Tom Berlin (left) presents a copy of his book, “Courage,” to Massachusetts National Guard Chaplain Chad McCabe in the chapel at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. McCabe, whose unit was assigned to help provide security at the U.S. Capitol after the January riot, contacted Wesley Seminary asking for Bibles, novels and board games for troops stationed there. Photo by Lisa Helfert for Wesley Theological Seminary. Copyright 2021. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Church responds to chaplain's call to help soldiers

A National Guard chaplain got Bibles, games and 150 copies of a new book about courage when he turned to Wesley Theological Seminary for help keeping soldiers occupied in Washington in the aftermath of the Capitol insurrection.
Violence
The Rev. William B. Lawrence.  Photo by H. Jackson/Southern Methodist University.

What would Jesus tell the US Capitol rioters?

The Rev. William B. Lawrence examines the claims of Scriptural authority by violent protesters who stormed the U.S. Capitol.