Preparing for Re-entry!

Hi Everyone! It has been a long time since I posted something on my blog page, although Kathy and I have posted frequently on Facebook about my sabbatical travels, which have encompassed the Holy Land, New Zealand, New York City and Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York, from where I just returned last Friday. A three-day silent retreat with spiritual direction was just what I needed to ground myself in God after a busy time of travel and ready myself once more for parish ministry. I know it’s a trite thing to say (and to write!), but these three months have flown by, which speaks to how full the days have been for both Kathy and me.

I am extraordinarily grateful to all of you for allowing me this time away to refresh my spirit and experience even more of God’s good creation. I have flown thousands of miles, driven long distances (on both sides of the road!) and also walked a good bunch of miles — particularly in the Holy Land —during which I have seen gorgeous sights and met many wonderful people. It truly has been a grace-filled three months.

So, how can I sum up this experience? I can say unequivocally that I achieved the goals I established for my sabbatical. I had always wanted to go to the Holy Land, and to that end I embarked on a 10-day pilgrimage entitled “Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus” just a day after my final pre-sabbatical Sunday at Messiah, on April 28. A cynical, older priest friend of mine chided me about the title of my pilgrimage, asking how could I possibly think I was walking in Jesus’ footsteps when the land in which Jesus had ministered had changed so radically over 2,000 years? I think he misses the point. I was content simply to BE in the places where we know Jesus was — Jerusalem, Capernaum, Nazareth, the Judean wilderness, and the Jordan River, among other locales. Whether I was treading exactly the same ground as Jesus did was not important to me. The fact that I was surely in the general area of where he had lived, ministered and died was sufficient. I will tell you more about my particular experiences on pilgrimage in person, so as not to drag this blog on too long...

Another goal was to spend quality time with my family and friends in New Zealand, many of whom I hadn’t seen for quite a while. In particular, some of the most recent trips Kathy and I took to New Zealand were largely taken up with helping to care for my elderly parents, both of whom died while we were visiting on vacation in February 2015 and 2016, respectively. To be able to spend over a month visiting with my brothers and sisters without the pressure of needing to pack and move on to another place every couple of days was a great blessing. In addition, I caught up with priest friends whom I had met during my time at seminary in Auckland, NZ, in 2003-2005, and had the opportunity to talk with them and others at some length about their ministries. Not surprisingly, it turned out we had a lot in common. Kathy and I also met with the Bishop of Auckland, the Rt. Rev. Ross Bay, whom I had also met during my seminary days when he was Vicar of a prominent parish in the city. Below are photos of the beautiful sanctuary of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell, Auckland, and a photo of the recently completed new chapel featuring an outdoor cross, which can just be seen through the rear windows. To the right, in contrast, is a shot of the front of the Anglican Cathedral in Christchurch, in the South Island, which was extensively damaged in the earthquake of February, 2011. Plans are ongoing to rebuild the cathedral and it is hoped that initial work will begin early next year.

Third, I wanted to see parts of my home country that I had only visited briefly many years ago and to experience again the beautiful array of mountains, lakes, rivers and forests that are a hallmark of the southern part of the South Island, where “The Lord of the Rings” was filmed. To this end Kathy ,and I spent five days in the tourist city of Queenstown, which is like Aspen on a lake. Queenstown is framed by a range of mountains aptly called The Remarkables, and the waters of Lake Wakatipu that surround it are a striking aqua color. Leaving Queenstown, we drove 300 miles north to the city of Christchurch, passing through what the locals, with considerable understatement, call “High Country”, featuring breathtaking views at almost every turn in the road. Like many other famous geographical landmarks (think Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Grand Tetons, etc.), this part of New Zealand seems to be imbued with spiritual power, as if the land itself was bursting with what the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins termed “God’s Grandeur.” I will never forget what I saw on that drive north to Christchurch, nor will I forget the scenic flight and cruise we took to Milford Sound, which was truly the experience of a lifetime. The photos below show the runway at Milford with the famous Mitre Peak in the background, a view of the alps from our seven-seater plane, and views of the ocean cliffs in the Sound, some of which rise to 300 feet above sea level. We enjoyed a two-hour cruise up the Sound to the Tasman Sea and back.

In closing, along with the magnificent scenery of New Zealand, the strikingly varied geography of the Holy Land and the heartfelt reunions we experienced with family members and friends, what stands out for me most about the last three months is simply the memorable conversations we had with people along the way — with restaurant servers, hotel clerks and housekeeping staff, airline employees, Uber drivers and so many others. Without becoming too mystical about it, I understand more than ever before how we are all one people in God’s eyes, purposefully created to be in communion with each other. In some of these conversations we quickly made intimate connections with people who would have remained strangers to us if we had not been thrown together through our roles as travelers and pilgrims and their roles as people who were there to help us on our way.

In chapter 24 of his gospel, Luke describes an encounter between two forlorn disciples and the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus, where Jesus inquires of his fellow travelers, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along? (Luke 24:17, NRSV). This question prompts a conversation that leads to a shared meal and the revelation that the disciples’ master, who they thought was gone from them forever, was in fact sitting at table with them. Taking the time to talk with others along the way, to understand where they have come from, where they are going and what their hopes and dreams are, similarly can lead to an encounter with Christ in our midst. Of all the experiences I had during my sabbatical, this is perhaps the most powerful learning.

Blessings to you all. See you on Sunday!

Tim+

PS: Many more photos from our trip can be viewed on Kathy and my Facebook pages, if you are interested. Also, I will put together a slide presentation for a talk at church some time in the fall.




“Jerusalem, Jerusalem…”

As many of you know, one of the fun things about traveling is not only what you get to see but who you get to meet. Not surprisingly, with the Episcopal Church being such a small denomination, I have already run into people in Jerusalem who know people I know, and the connections continue. I’m staying at St. George’s College, a well-known Anglican college in the east part of Jerusalem and situated within an easy walk to the old part of the city where Scripture comes alive for Christians.

On the first day (sounds like a line from Genesis, doesn’t it?!) we got in our bus and drove to the Mount of Olives, from where we looked all the way across to Ammon, in Jordan, and then, in the other direction, across the Kidron Valley to the old city, featuring the Dome of the Rock and other historical highlights.

View in the distance of the hills of Ammon, Jordan, from the Mount of Olives.

View in the distance of the hills of Ammon, Jordan, from the Mount of Olives.

Looking in the other direction from the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley to the Haram Al Sharif (Dome of the Rock). The cemetery in the foreground has been in continuous use for hundreds of years. The large wall beyond the cemetery, the city’s outer wall, was not there in Jesus’ day.

Looking in the other direction from the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley to the Haram Al Sharif (Dome of the Rock). The cemetery in the foreground has been in continuous use for hundreds of years. The large wall beyond the cemetery, the city’s outer wall, was not there in Jesus’ day.

What was memorable for me about going to the Mount of Olives was the view of Bethany, now of course a bustling, modern city that is close to Jerusalem. Just saying the name Bethany conjures up images for me of Jesus going there to raise up Lazarus and then returning to dine with him and his sisters, Mary and Martha. The other thing that struck me was the sight of a shepherd moving his sheep up a rather steep hill. It was as if a two thousand year-old clock had suddenly stood still and we were transported back in time for a moment.

Jerusalem is a busy city that often appears to be overwhelmed by traffic and people. The narrow streets in the old city were not built with cars in mind, and the crush of vendors and customers moving through the markets and cafes — and pilgrims walking en masse to holy sites — frequently creates gigantic bottlenecks in close quarters that require patience and good humor on everyone’s part to resolve.

Members of our tour group emerge from a dark and crowded alley. This is not a city for claustrophobic people!

Members of our tour group emerge from a dark and crowded alley. This is not a city for claustrophobic people!

One of the highlights for me of visiting the old city was to see the ruins of the Pools of Bethesda, where Jesus healed a paralyzed man who had been waiting for years for the waters to be stirred up and for someone to put him into the water so that he might be healed. The two pools were huge and very deep, so I can imagine the man’s fear at going under the water and perhaps drowning. Significantly, after telling the man to take up his bed and walk, Jesus tells him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam, which was a fair distance away and also necessitated a laborious climb back up to the city afterward. Jesus did not let this man get off lightly! After visiting the ruins of the pools, we held a healing service in a nearby chapel that was moving for many in our group.

One of the fun games to play in the old city is to guess the age of the huge stones that are embedded in walls or in buildings. Many of them were formerly part of Herod’s spectacular Temple that was razed by the Romans in 70 AD in retaliation for a Jewish uprising. The Roman burned the Temple to the ground and the huge stones found their way into many another architectural project.

We also spent time today touring the ruins of the Temple, which stands on the same site as Haram Al Sharif. At ten o’clock, sirens began wailing to signal a two minute silence in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Because the Haram Al Sharif is under Arab control and is a sacred site to Muslims around the world, we were instructed not to pray but to simply stand silently until the sirens finished.

Stones from the Temple built by Herod the Great are often found embedded in walls and the exterior of buildings in the old city of Jerusalem — a quintessential piece of recycling!

Stones from the Temple built by Herod the Great are often found embedded in walls and the exterior of buildings in the old city of Jerusalem — a quintessential piece of recycling!

Stones from the second Temple lie where they fell following the Romans’ destruction of it in 70 AD (see top of photo). According to our guide, Jesus probably walked on this wide street within the Temple precincts during one of his visits to Jerusalem.

Stones from the second Temple lie where they fell following the Romans’ destruction of it in 70 AD (see top of photo). According to our guide, Jesus probably walked on this wide street within the Temple precincts during one of his visits to Jerusalem.

It is an extraordinary experience to walk around a city like Jerusalem, where history — especially religious history — is baked into the fabric of almost everything you see. While I am not obsessively trying to imagine that wherever Jesus was at any given moment, there I am as well, it is a fact that some 2000 years ago he walked the streets of this city, and so it is likely that our paths will cross a few times (metaphorically speaking, of course.)

Tomorrow we visit the Judean wilderness where Jesus was tempted, and then the Jordan River, where John baptized his cousin. We are invited to renew our own baptismal vows as we stand in the river. After lunch in Jericho we will visit the continued excavations at Qumran and then float in the Dead Sea. Sounds like a full day…

Thanks for following along with me on my sabbatical journey. Please pray for me and my fellow travelers as we move deeper into our pilgrimage. I’ll write again soon.

Eastertide blessings!

Tim+

A dispatch from Toronto Airport, April 29

Hello, friends. This first posting is something of a test while I get to grips with the blogging software. So I beg your indulgence as I go through the learning process...

I’m happy to say I made it out of Baltimore and am now in Toronto airport waiting for my flight to Tel Aviv. I have 3.5 hours to burn, so I’m sitting among rows of counters with a host of iPads courteously provided by the airport authorities for the use of their patrons. I can’t help thinking of when I managed a medical publishing office in London forty years ago (gulp!) and we all thought that our telex machine was the greatest advance in communications the world had ever known…

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the wonderful send-off service yesterday. Deacon Emily composed a heartfelt prayer for all of us, and I am especially grateful for your prayers as I embark on this sabbatical leave, which I have looked forward to for so long.

Those who have visited my office with reasonable frequency know how papers and books have a habit of multiplying on my desk under the cover of darkness. However, I spent some time yesterday getting things in order, even though the stacks still remain. Take a look at this!

IMG_1862.jpeg

Packing for the trip yesterday afternoon only took me an hour or so. I confess I went to REI in Timonium earlier last week and loaded up on some lightweight clothes for the Jerusalem heat and also splurged on a backpack with so many pockets it will take me a while to find where I put things. (Thanks, Karen and Dirk Hoffman, for the box of trail mix that I’m sure will come in handy as I walk in the footsteps of Jesus — that’s actually the title of the pilgrimage I’m on.)

I was up at 5:00 a.m. this morning to finish putting things in order and was out the door and headed for BWI at 7:10 a.m. That’s me, below, with the limo driver in the background. Incidentally, talk about Smalltimore! Turns out my driver worked as a photojournalist at the Baltimore Sun for a number of years and knows my good friend Dion Thompson, formerly a reporter with the Sun and now an Episcopal priest. Dion+ and I went through the discernment and ordination process together and still get together regularly for lunch to talk about our ministries.

A Bientot!, as the French say. See you soon….

A Bientot!, as the French say. See you soon….

That will do it for the moment. I’ll write again from Tel Aviv after a day or two to get my bearings…

Blessings to you all!

Tim+