A Sabbatical Pilgrimage

Mark Johnson | April 29, 2019

This summer, starting in May, I will be embarking upon a period of travel, reflection, reading, and blogging meant for rest, research, and spiritual renewal.  This time is known as a sabbatical and I am greatly appreciative to the church for affording me such a wonderful opportunity.

I’ll begin my time with two primary personalities of 17th Century reformational Christianity: John Bunyan and Roger Williams.  Bunyan is the well - known author of Pilgrim’s Progress, a spiritual allegory that remains the most published work of English religious literature outside of the Bible.  Williams was the radical Puritan minister who was the founder of the Colony of Rhode Island and an early advocate of religious freedom and the separation of church and state.  Both were influenced by the 17th Century Baptists and both were persecuted for their determined and unfailing devotion to Christ.  Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while in jail.  Williams was banished in the dead of winter by the Massachusetts Bay Colony and would have died if not for the kindness and rescue of Native Americans.

During the latter part of May, I’ll be retracing some of Williams footsteps in Providence, Rhode Island.

While there, I’ll be thinking about how the traveled landscapes of our experience impact our spiritual imaginations and perspectives.  Bunyan wrote from prison and crafted his wisdom of Christian journey, filled with temptations, distractions and final reward through a fanciful agrarian English countryside.  Williams forged his thinking in the natural and sometimes harsh realities of the American frontier.  I will be wondering about how the influence of place and location forms, shapes, and impacts our theologies and views of the world.

The bulk of my study will take me to Ireland in June as I delve more fully into the classic magnum opus Ulysses, written by James Joyce at the early part of the 20th Century.  Like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Ulysses is considered one of the most important works ever constructed in the English language.  Heavily built upon Homer’s Odyssey and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Joyce’s voice was also deeply influenced by his early Jesuit education and the rich history of Irish Catholicism he translated and critiqued in line with the arising and transforming breakthroughs of the modernist abandonment of traditional norms and civilities, many of which Joyce can be credited with advancing.  Based within the urban context of Dublin, Ireland, Ulysses focuses upon the ordinary experiences of one ordinary man going through one ordinary day (June 16, 1904) and sets the stage for the challenges, dilemmas, and questions that reverberate just as strongly into the contemporary experience.

I will finish my study with Wendell Berry’s poem, "A Homecoming."  By returning to Kentucky, I am also returning home, to the agrarian nobility of my heritage, to the Baptist soil of my faith, and to my particular calling of modern demands integrated through the place and pilgrimage I have encountered along this part of the Christian journey.

Throughout this experience, I’ll have time to share some of my travel experiences and learning lessons through a blog you can follow at www.revmarkjohnson.com.   While I’m gone you will be led by a fantastic and rich selection of special preachers and our very gifted and committed staff.   I’ll be returning in mid-July.  I humbly ask for your prayers as I travel and your focused commitment to the activities and needs of our congregation while I’m away.

I’m honored to be a part of this loving and supportive congregation that values learning through careful and focused attention to our common history and to the needs in front of us, living together in our shared place within a constantly changing and demanding world.

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