Junaluska — one real moment of love, saying “yes” to GodSpecial to The Mountaineer
During the summer of 1951, my sophomore year in high school, I attended a Southeastern Methodist Youth Fellowship Leadership Conference at Lake Junaluska. On the final night, some 300 youth participated in an unusual sharing session.
We were invited to sit in silence and to speak up from the depths of ourselves, as we felt led. I was astonished that kids my own age would do something like that. One by one, young people sitting around me stood and spoke from their hearts.
I could feel my heart racing like a trip hammer. Before I knew it, I was standing and something within me ascended from the depths of my own spiritual labyrinth. I found myself speaking, my pulse beating so rapidly that I could barely stand up without shaking. Something with words wrapped around it came from me as I shared into the listening sanctuary of my peers.
I have no idea what I said; it doesn't really matter, the point is, I opened the door to something that was ready to come up and out.
The chairs faced the lake through the open doors that led down several steps. A table covered in white was set in front of the open doors; wine (grape juice, of course) and bread and candles and The Great Invitation. We all knew that the Silent Communion Table was our opportunity to say, “Yes,” to the Holy One. I walked up to the table and ate the bread and drank the wine and walked outside into the silence of a warm summer night.
Towering silhouettes of mountains surrounded me. A huge cross, glowing with light danced and rippled across the lake into my spirit. I recall inhaling the poignant smell of roses as a voice. Quite suddenly I felt a Great Gentle Overwhelming Presence, and I was consumed in waves of Love. That's the only way I could describe it.
A voice, a quiet and distinct voice spoke clearly within me, a voice without words, larger than words, absolutely seared into my psyche until this very day, some 63 years ago. The wordless Words remain distinctly clear, "You are loved, and I will teach you how to love other people the way I'm loving you."
I was stunned and remained quite overwhelmed with the realization that something beyond mere rational thinking was happening to my mind, heart and physical body. My physical cells as well as my conscious mind experienced a dimension of perception and reality that I could not deny and be true to myself. I walked quite contemplatively around the lake, consumed in a thick sense of Presence. Then, seemingly out of "nowhere" (or Now-Here?"), that voice returned a second time.
"Will you do this as a minister?" said the voice.
This was a completely foreign thought to me. I was planning to go to Duke and be an engineer. My dad was a movie theater manager. Being a clergyman was not a familiar goal in life. I nodded.
Again those waves of love consumed me with an incredible inner peace. I knew a revolution was somehow taking place in my life. It was certainly a realistic moment of love, and in that moment I had an inner dialogue with myself, "Well, Mr. Edwards, it looks like you are going to be a preacher."
I preached my first sermon the following December in my hometown church to a sanctuary filled with friends and relatives; the sermon was 23-and-one-half minutes long.
Since then I have had the opportunity to minister in Methodist churches in North Carolina, Kentucky, Minnesota and Southern California. From there, in 1968, I was invited to become executive director of Christian Laity of Chicago, an ecumenical movement dedicated to small faith community building in the marketplace, churches and homes of greater Chicago.
Finally, I felt called into interfaith ministry involving people from many faiths represented by the world's great religions. Now, in my late 70s, I walk with individuals who choose to pay serious attention to their soul work in the second half of life.
Lake Junaluska remains a significant geographical marker in my life; it has become a sacred site in my psyche where I experienced an encounter with the Divine Presence. I know — it could have happened in my eastern North Carolina backyard sitting under my childhood china-ball tree. It could have happened on the football field or in my bathroom shower.
The fact remains, it happened on that special night, in the silence and subtle summer shadows of the beautiful Smoky Mountains, with that blazing light from the cross rippling across those gentle waves into my youthful longing. It happened at Junaluska.
I have no reason or need to prove that it happened. When I returned to the same place decades later, I walked all around the lake. That walk was a “Thank You” walk around. I smelled the roses and my goose bumps reminded me of Something that remains intact, genuine, realistic.
Thankfully, I have grown and changed and my worldview and perceptions of reality have changed several times. Life, as we all know if we have reflected on our life experiences, is never static. And yet, there remains that mystical and very practical Something that guides, protects and challenges us day after day. Junaluska will never be a shrine for me; it shall forever be a living reminder that an incredible grace and gracious Presence remains the central life-giving force in our world of being and doing. Thank you, Junaluska.
Hal Edwards resides in Wauconda, Illinois and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read Edwards’ poems at