Headwaters—Where it All Begins
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16: 13-18
Several years ago I joined a group of Wesleyan students, faculty, and trustees for our Summer Leadership Institute. We explored the waterways of the St. Croix and the Mississippi and learned about their importance to their surrounding areas. One of my favorite days involved traveling through Minnesota to Wisconsin, up a winding road, and then hiking up the mountain in the rain to a spot in the woods where a spring produced a trickle of water that ran down the mountain into the St. Croix River back through Wisconsin to Minnesota 169 miles into the Mississippi River. It was a sacred spot to the indigenous people, and it was a holy moment for me. I had never seen headwaters—where it all begins, a trickle of water that over time and space helps form the mighty Mississippi River that runs all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
Jesus spent a lot of time outdoors—and not just of necessity traveling on foot from town to town. He seems to have been drawn to natural spaces: the wilderness, the mountain, the plain, the lake, the lakeside. He sought these spaces to pray and to preach, to be alone, with his disciples, and with those who came to learn from him. The passage in Matthew 16 gives us a glimpse into a pivotal event for Jesus and the disciples, and while it refers to the region of Caesarea Philippi, I think the passage gives us clues that suggest Jesus chose a very special natural space for this conversation.
Before the Roman city of Caesarea Philippi was built, the Greeks built a temple to the god Pan, and before that there was a cave with an underground spring that nourished the land around the cave. In the midst of barrenness, there was a fertile area! It was a sacred spot to the indigenous people and to the people after them. The trickle of water that begins with the spring in the cave flows into the Banias River, one of the tributaries of the Jordan River—yes, the very river where Jesus was baptized by his cousin, John. Jesus chose to take his disciples to the headwaters—where it all begins, to proclaim to Simon son of Jonah, “I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock.”
As we enter the season of Advent, it is fitting that we remember Peter’s declaration: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and to ponder what it means to be children of a living God, to ponder what Church Jesus might have envisioned as he stood on that rock near the old Cave of Pan, and to ponder how we are living out Jesus’ vision for the Church today.
On this Wesleyan Sunday 2021, we consider another example of headwaters—where it all began, Wesleyan College. Like the trickle of water that formed the great Mississippi or Jordan rivers, the bold idea that women should have the same access to higher education as men began in the 1830s with a few Methodist leaders in Georgia and spread around the United States and the world, with hundreds of colleges and universities eventually modeling their liberal arts colleges for women after Wesleyan (originally Georgia Female College). Today fewer than forty women’s colleges exist in North America, and Wesleyan is proud to carry this noble work into its third century.
Thank you for supporting Wesleyan by encouraging women to apply; by praying for our students, faculty, and staff; and by supporting our programs and scholarships with your generous gifts.
Dr. Vivia L. Fowler, President