It was over four years ago that I returned from sabbatical. I continue to be amazed by how fresh this experience remains for me. In Sunday’s Gospel reading, we will hear these words from Matthew:

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea.

Even before I received the Lilly grant and began planning my sabbatical with the support of a terrific sabbatical committee, I had intimations of how to spend these months. Before I knew it was going to be possible, I was getting these notions of lingering in the orbit of Capernaum, where Jesus made his home and his base for ministry to the villages of Galilee. Some of this seemed very counter-intuitive at the time. The thought would occur to me that I could stay somewhere close to Capernaum, rent a car and visit as many places as possible during my month there.

But what kept coming to me was that I needed to find a place by the sea (which was a real challenge) and spend the month not traveling, but on foot, unplugged from all devices. I’m so grateful for the guidance I received, for I don’t think the sabbatical which I would have planned on my own would have come close to the actual experience which it seemed to me then–and now–was there waiting for me.

I’m writing about this now because just as I felt a call to go to Capernaum, I am feeling a call now to write about my experience, what I have learned and am still learning. It’s truer to say that I have felt this call for some time, and it has not gone away. So in response to this, I am taking a week of study leave, beginning Monday, January 27. I will be at the worship service on February 2, but Michael Catlett will preach.

My plans are to spend time with the writing I did four years ago, including the many sermons/articles/talks during these few years in which I have referred to the sabbatical time in Galilee and Palestine. I hope to get more clear about what kind of writing project this persistent sense of call is leading me into. I will never forget your encouragement and support when I left for sabbatical almost four and a half years ago, so I want to share with you now how undiminished this experience remains for me. My gratitude has not diminished, either. Thank you for the opportunity even for a little while to make my home “in Capernaum by the sea.” 

– Steve 

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