Sunday, September 01, 2013

Preparing for the Journey -- A Sabbatical Reflection

My Sabbatical has begun.  It is a Sunday morning.  I took the day off to be alone, to take a walk, do some reading, focus on where God is leading.  I am now in that final mode of preparing.  I leave for England a week from tomorrow, arriving in London on Tuesday.  I have been longing for this moment for many years.  My friend and fellow historian Bill Gibson, with whom I have collaborated with on a festschrift for a beloved friend and mentor, Jim Bradley, has been working with me for a number of years to bring this to fruition.  And now the, moment has come.  I do have some last minute things to do between now and then.  But, I have reached the moment of making final preparations for embarking on the journey.  

My friend and a spiritual mentor, Susan Copeland, writes that the second step in pilgrimage is preparation.  In the chapter setting this out, she uses as an epigraph Luke 9:3:
Take nothing for your journey, no staff, no bag, no bread, nor money, not even an extra tunic.
Of course these are all required for the pilgrimage.  She details the six essentials that medieval pilgrims would take with them on their journeys -- a staff, a gourd, a travel bag, a woolen cloak, and emblem that denoted that the person was a pilgrim, and a broad brimmed hat.  These provisions were light, but provided the basic necessities.  Pilgrims were to travel light and depend on the hospitality of those they encountered along the way.  They went knowing that they might not return alive (I am expecting, Cheryl and Brett are expecting, me to return safe and sound).  But a pilgrimage does involve risk.  Susan points out that pilgrims travel for many different reasons, ranging from a search for healing to a search for wisdom.  Part of my reason for taking this journey, especially to England, is to connect with something that is deep within, a sense of connection to a place.  Interestingly I've never had this urge to go to Jerusalem.  Maybe it's because that's where everyone else has gone.  England has, however, long stood before me.  In part this is due to my own Episcopal roots.  It may have to do with my English heritage.  Whatever the case, England has long drawn my attention.  And now I get to take that step.  

I go not necessarily as a tourist or even a scholar.  I go with a sense of openness to what God has prepared for me along the way.  I'm making my plans.  I know where I'll be staying.  I know where I'll be doing research.  I know some of the places I will go.  I've mentioned Salisbury, where Gilbert Burnet once served as Bishop.  I want to go to St. Paul's in London, a church designed and built by Christopher Wren during the period that I've devoted my scholarly attention.  I plan to spend time in worship at the Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford.  It's a smallish cathedral, serving as chapel to an Oxford College, but it will provide me a place to gather my thoughts and attend to God's presence -- especially at the altar.  

One of the things that I must deal with as I take this journey is leaving behind the worries and responsibilities that I carry in life -- my church responsibilities and my leadership responsibilities for TIG and MCC.  

Susan writes:
When preparing for a pilgrimage in modern times, we should seek out the wisdom of those who have gone before us.  Look to travel lightly.  Recognize what is essential to take on the journey, however long or short it may be.  Be sure to let go not only of the material things but also of burdens you do not need to carry.  [Finding The Waymarkers: A Pilgrim's Journal for Modern Times p. 35] 

Then, in closing Susan writes -- words that I need to hear -- as I take these next steps:
As you mark this movement of preparation for pilgrimage, may your hands and heart be opened to simplicity in body, mind, and spirit.  Remember that in modern times, you can collect almost any necessity as you travel.  However, be sure to pack your intention to be open to God's guidance.  This will free you to seek and receive hospitality and charity along the way.  [Finding The Waymarkers: A Pilgrim's Journal for Modern Times p. 35] 

I will most likely pack a bit heavier than Jesus suggests, but I shall go on this journey with a heart open to what God would show me.

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