We saw many smiles from children elementary school-bound and high school students as well, as they arrived on Saturday August 24th to receive backpacks filled with school supplies. Led by In Session, Riverside Baptist Church once again provided these supplies in our annual effort to equip young people in the educational journey. Special thanks to Margo Baker who spearheaded this effort along with the Chairperson of In Session, Jacquelyn McCullough and all those who helped put the packs together as well as distributing them.
Journey’s end is journey’s beginning. My month sabbatical completed, I returned home Thursday to begin another journey: my pastorate with a congregation that is growing, whose distinctive voice on behalf of the marginal is very much needed in a world riven by hatreds and bigotries.
There are so many lessons from a pilgrimage (or travel) that to enumerate them all would be a disservice to them I suppose. Planning, connections, patience, risk, serendipity, boundaries, hospitality to strangers, openness to the other and God’s universal presence incapable of being grasped by any one geography, ethnicity or religion. You can tease these lessons out without having stepped foot in another country. But the physicality, the incarnational quality of actually placing oneself in a context outside of one’s comfort zone or routine is simply invaluable for receiving these lessons. A pilgrimage is a baptism of sorts where one is immersed within the language, customs, perceptions and beliefs of those who are different. It is waking up to being the stranger. The Gospel of John says in the first chapter that Christ appeared to us as a stranger. Suddenly we can loop such an insight into a theology of journey. I could go on…
I am grateful for the leadership of our church who advocated my taking a sabbatical after twenty years of service, grateful for a congregation willing to be engaged and to engage the ministry of another servant of God (Michael Kinnamon) and grateful for all who served and kept being the church in this place for this time. I will enter our sanctuary with joy tomorrow and hope and pray you will join me there, not only for our reunion but for the beginning of a new journey. Grace & peace,
postscript The picture in my post is of the cloister of the convent called The Basilica Santi Quattro Coronati. It is near the Coliseum in Rome. I had discovered it eight years ago when I traveled to Rome for the first time for my 50th birthday. I was so pleased to be near it this trip, for my hotel was just down the hill from it. My first night in Rome, I ambled up the hill and entered the small, ancient sanctuary for Vespers, led by the chants of about a dozen nuns. My first trip, however, I did not even know there was a cloister available for visiting. One day I entered its quiet, peaceful square of light and took this picture.
Saturday night, 10:30 and I’ve listened to the Adhan, the call to prayer, piped through loud speakers attached to minarets like kudzu. The night is inky, parts blue and black, white bodied gulls fly near and over the dome of the Blue Mosque and my thoughts are beginning to stray toward home where, in one week, I will be standing in a familiar pulpit with a beloved congregation.
A traveler must be careful about drawing conclusions about any place s/he visits since first impressions are often misguided. A city and a people take time to reveal themselves. That said, there are impressions and they should be freely but carefully offered. For me, Constantinople is where I wanted to travel–a place no longer in time but whose remnants can be found beneath layers of stone and centuries of art and political life. I have had some success touching Constantinople with the help of good books, the experience of being here on the ground and because Dr. Kinnamon has, while preaching and teaching to you about ecumenical life, gained me an audience with His Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. I also have had the pleasure of speaking to a young man who converted to Christianity and has put me in touch with a pastor who has a small house church where on Siunday, I hope to worship. And I have had many occasions to drink tea with hospitable Turks who have invited me not only into their shops but briefly into their day and their lives. I have many more impressions but far too manny for a blog entry! The love of God and Peace of Christ unite us,
Weds, May 23
Thursday morning I will awaken at 3 o’clock in order to take a taxi at 4 o’clock in order to catch a plane to Zurich and then switch planes there so I can arrive in Istanbul. And it is true, I am going to Istanbul but in a deeper sense, I am traveling to Constantinople, the seat of the New Rome, the seat of Eastern Orthodox Christianity which has influenced the world more than we in the West realize. I am excited to see this great city, plundered by Venice, depended upon by Florence for the Renaissance, particularly with regard to classic Greek philosophy and interactive with Latin Christianity but alas, separated.
My time in Rome has been separated by eight years. I first came here when I was fifty. The truth is, however, this ancient city is layered by history, architecture, theology and social and political life. Digging into those layers takes time. I gladly take this metaphor and apply it to my journey since I have been digging into the layers of my self. Of what am I comprised? How does my present age change my perceptions of the world and my soul? When I remove the layers, what lies at the core of me? These and many questions are packed with my clothes and books. I take them to each city and tonight, I will take them one last time into the convent sanctuary of Quattro Coronati for Vespers and as I listen to the sisters in their black habits chant their prayers, as the dusk light of Rome filters into that ancient space and glints off ancient and faded frescoes, I’ll take my questions to God, giving thanks for a soul and a mind endowed with the power to ask, seek, knock …and find.