Halloween Happenings: What John Wesley’s Ghost Story Teaches Us
Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? Many of us do, apparently including John Wesley himself. According to Ministry Matters contributor Shane Raynor, Wesley believed in supernatural beings because his family experienced a spirit’s presence in his childhood home.
The spirit, referred to as “Old Jeffrey” by the Wesleys, was reportedly active in the family’s home in the early 18th century. The entire household experienced all sorts of phenomenon, from peculiar noises like footsteps and rattling chains to moving furniture, including a levitating bed.
Some may dismiss the Wesley family’s ghost story and all things supernatural, but perhaps there is a benefit to believing in the spiritual realm. Raynor points out that while sometimes our experiences may not have a logical explanation, if we always try forcing them to fit our ideal, we risk damaging our faith. By accepting there are things beyond our understanding, we may instead focus on the things we can control.
The supernatural may also play a role in guiding us to lead moral lives. According to mythology scholar Tok Thompson, ghosts typically “haunt” for good reasons, such as unsolved murders or improper funerals, and are often seeking justice from beyond the grave. “In this way, ghosts reveal the shadow side of ethics,” explains Thompson. “Their sightings are often a reminder that ethics and morality transcend our lives and that ethical lapses can carry a heavy spiritual burden.”
Believing in spirits may help us cope with grief as well. By welcoming the idea that life is complex, we may begin to recognize there is no correct way to think or feel and henceforth give ourselves permission to grieve in our own way. A spiritual perspective may also assist in connecting with our lost loved ones, which psychologist Dr. Wendy Lichtenthal explains can help us co-exist with the pain of grief.
One of our own staff, Associate Content Manager Aneta Zalinska, shared with us her experience with and perspective on the supernatural:
“When my grandparents first moved into their new home, they never would have guessed the married couple next door would become their closest friends. They made many wonderful memories together, but unfortunately the wife was diagnosed with cancer several years later. She battled the disease for a long time, but there was nothing anyone could do as her strength gradually diminished.
“My grandmother told me hearing her friend’s voice that day felt like a final goodbye, one they didn’t have a chance to say before she passed. When I lost my own grandfather to cancer years later and was struggling with my grief and guilt for not having been able to attend his funeral, my grandmother’s story brought me much comfort. Sitting alone in my room, I spoke my final farewell, and deep inside, I knew he heard it.”
It was stories like these that made Wesley pause to consider phenomena bigger than ourselves. Being receptive to the idea of a spiritual dimension can help us stay centered with the past—and the future—and accept a world in which we can’t predict every outcome.