“This is the strangest sabbatical I’ve ever heard of.”
Either one or both of us have said these words any number of times over the past 2 years. Back in early 2020, when Chip applied for a sabbatical grant from the Lilly Foundation, he envisioned a 4- month pilgrimage of rest and renewal, traveling in the four directions of the compass to reconnect with family and friends and his own sense of vocation. As with just about everything else over the past 2+ years, the pandemic disrupted all of that and has required creative revisioning and rescheduling, thanks to support and flexibility from Lilly.
In summer 2021, we traveled as a family to the American Southwest and spent a month touring the Grand Circle of National Parks in northern Arizona, southwestern Colorado and southern Utah. We all discovered the incredible beauty and diversity of geological landscapes, biological ecosystems, and Native cultures, and Chip’s vision expanded to enjoy the vast open spaces and limitless horizons in this part of the country. However, due to travel restrictions and Covid shutdowns, his sabbatical pilgrimage was cut short for the year.
This summer, in addition to some vacation in July, Chip will take two more months of his sabbatical in August and September, traveling north to climb mountains in the Adirondacks, west to take two of our kids to college, and then east to Spain to walk the last 100 km of the Camino with Tami. Chip’s first trip to Spain in 2019 to walk part of this ancient pilgrimage route was what sparked Chip’s interest in pilgrimage as a way to understand the journey through both life and faith. Chip will take the final month of his sabbatical in 2023 when he and Tami travel to Scotland to visit Iona and walk the West Highland Way.
You may recall that our Lenten theme in 2021 was “Wandering for the Love of God” and encouraged all of us to become pilgrims in faith. Using Christine Valters Paintner’s book, The Soul of a Pilgrim, we explored eight pilgrim practices for journeying deeper into our faith and our relationships with God, one another, and the world. Chip’s sabbatical pilgrimage has highlighted many of these pilgrim practices in ways we did not expect, especially making the way by walking, being uncomfortable, beginning again, and embracing the unknown (and the unexpected).
Although this has not been the sabbatical journey we expected for Chip, it has certainly been true to what pilgrimage is really all about – surrendering yourself to the journey ahead and whatever twists and turns it brings, trusting that God goes with you and even guides your steps as you walk into the unknown. Although we have wandered from the original plan, we have found God in some surprising places and every step along the way. So maybe we are exactly where we need to be, and God is calling us to continue trusting in the pilgrim practices we learned way back at the beginning of this sabbatical journey and now as it stretches in unexpected directions.
In the coming months, we invite you also to stay on the path of faith, trusting in God’s presence with you, exploring what it means to venture into the unknown one step at a time, seeking new ways to both discover God’s love in unexpected people and places and then to share it with others along the way.
~Chip and Tami