Looking forward and back again

There are times in one’s life where a pause brings sudden clarity.  For me it usually happens after a tediously long time of uncertainty and self-doubt, of not seeing a clear way forward and then finding oneself suddenly across a new threshold.  One such pause moved me  forward with farewells and godspeed in a new direction to a new congregation.  Another pause of clarity came this past Sunday in worship where the same congregation and I celebrated ten years in ministry together; although we have all changed much over the past decade, our mission together is becoming clear and strong and there are more miles to go.  All of which has  reminded me of another very significant pause that enabled me to get this far—the sabbatical pilgrimage of three years ago.  I think it is time to tell the story  here over the weeks to come.


The moment is a snapshot in my memory.   It is November, 2007, and I  am walking out of the post office with frost on the ground and a letter in my hand.  I squint in the bright sun as I impatiently open the envelope made of heavier quality paper.  By the time I reach the car, I am reading the second paragraph and the sentence that will launch me on an adventure, a physical and spiritual journey.  I read that I have been awarded a grant from the Louisville Institute for my sabbatical proposal “Walking the Water Way with John.”  The plan is for me to walk from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh on two connecting trails: the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal trail and the great Allegheny Passage Rail Trail while memorizing the gospel of John.

After I celebrate and tell everyone I know, the work begins.  I am a pastor and the congregation needs to be prepared and ready, because this is also  journey for them as they take on new responsibilities while I am away for three months.  My husband Rick must arrange leave from his college administrative job.  We work to make sure I am in physical shape, have the right equipment and carefully plan the  itinerary.  The plan for me is to walk an average of 10-13 miles per day with our dog Chester.  Rick will drop us off in the morning and pick us up at a prearranged destination further down the trail in the afternoon, depending upon where there is road access.  At night we will stay in our camping trailer in various campgrounds along the way.  Finally more than a year later, we are on our way.

What follows is the story of a pilgrimage taken from my journal, a story that spans the preparation, the walking and the return home.  It is the story of my doubts and fears.  But it is also the story of how the words of scripture breathe renewal into our souls and  of how God longs to walk and speak with us.  It is the story of discovering many things I didn’t know I was seeking…life, joy and courage.  It is the story of walking the water way.

To be continued…