Sabbatical Soundings: From the spirited Irish northwest to the stodgy English south

As of this writing, Bambi and I are at Sarum College in Salisbury, England. Sarum is an ecumenical center for learning that hosts a variety of graduate-level seminars. Theological education of some variety has been going on here for the last seven hundred years. We are here participating in a one-week seminar on “Celtic Spirituality.”

Our accommodations are in a lovely 17th century building designed by the famed architect, Christopher Wren. There are no screens on the gabled windows, just a sign that says, “Don’t let the pigeons in the windows!!” Apparently, screens (and air conditioning) are twentieth century innovations that have not yet reached this side of the Pond.

Sarum College bedroom window

The college is located just across the lawn from the majestic Salisbury Cathedral whose 400 foot spire is the tallest in Britain. The cathedral also houses the world’s oldest working clock and the best preserved of the four original copies of the Magna Carta. The interior of the cathedral features the soaring arches, buttress, and ceilings that are a staple of gothic architecture. I attended an Evensong service yesterday in the cathedral and marveled at the stunning clarity of the music and songs ringing out within the stone walls.

In some ways, our proximity to Salisbury Cathedral is a strange place to study Celtic spirituality, a form of piety that took shape in the magical, airy hills of Ireland. Saint Patrick and his kin (Columba and Bridget, the other patrons saints of Ireland) delighted in encountering the Divine in the grandeur of the natural world. As a result, they birthed a brand of Christianity much more personal, heart-centered, and sensual than the more rational, regimented expression of the faith based in Rome.

Window view of cathedral

Fortunately, we began our sabbatical journey on a whirlwind tour of northwest Ireland where early versions of what might be called “Celtic Christianity” stirred to life. The awe-inspiring scenery evoked wonder at the cosmic Artist who first wooed it all to life. The dark, rich greens of pastures speckled with sheep, framed by a deep blue sea surrounded by rocky bluffs, stirred the senses and awakened the soul.

So now Bambi and I are in Salisbury, beginning our formal study and hoping to integrate these seemingly contradictory worlds: one defined by natural grandeur and a spirituality of the heart and the other defined by stunning human achievement and a spirituality of the mind. Since Jesus invited us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, I have to believe there is room for both.

Meanwhile, keep us in your thoughts and prayer and we will surely do the same for you.


Bob Setzer, Jr.


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2 thoughts on “Sabbatical Soundings: From the spirited Irish northwest to the stodgy English south

  1. Carolyn Ashburn says:

    So glad to read your reflections of Ireland and now, England. Keep writing when you can. Ken Meyers told me that John Phillip Newell is coming to Knollwood in November. So happy to hear this. Carolyn Ashburn

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