Dr. Timothy Johnson Addresses National Shrine and Pilgrimage Apostolate Conference
By Anne Heymen
Tourists and pilgrims. Space and place. Students and pilgrims.
These were comparisons offered Nov. 4, when Flagler College professor Dr. Timothy Johnson presented Identity and The Sacred: Places, Spaces and Pilgrim Revelations during a brief address as part of the National Shrine and Pilgrimage Apostolate Conference. Coming from as far away as Alaska, the group of nearly 25 was attending a three-day meeting, Nov. 3-5, selecting St. Augustine for this year’s annual event. Eric Johnson, director of the Mission of Nombre de Dios, served as host.
Also in the audience was Bishop Felipe J. Estévez of the Diocese of St. Augustine, who had officiated at Mass at Prince of Peace Votive Church prior to Johnson’s talk at the college; and Flagler students who were scheduled for a class with Johnson during the 12:30 p.m. time period.
Introduced by Flagler College president Dr. William Abare Jr., Johnson, a Craig and Audrey Thorn Distinguished Professor at Flagler and chair of liberal studies, was described by Abare as a “rock star among our faculty – a true scholar.”
“Individuals create a place as to how they feel about a space,” Johnson told his audience gathered in the college’s historic Flagler Room, once the ballroom for the palatial Ponce de Leon Hotel. There are tourists – those anxious to get where they are going; and there are pilgrims – those who enjoy the journey as much as they enjoy arriving at the designated location, Johnson noted. Students can be pilgrims, as well. Students can merely move through the college experience or they can be transformed as they take the college journey.
Johnson shared thoughts from philosophers Durkheim, Eliade and Lane and spotlighted religious locations and events as part of Identity and The Sacred. Switching to the modern times he emphasized that we all have our special place, showing an excerpt from the popular television comedy The Big Bang Theory in which one of the main characters, Sheldon, must have his special place on the couch.
“I see this at church,” said Johnson, himself included. He, too, has a special place, and he sees it in his students. They choose a space which becomes their place. We “seek out a place where we can come, be moved, altered, touched.” And, Johnson admitted, when a student is not in his special place in Johnson’s class that student may be counted as absent – or Johnson may wonder why the student moved from his comfortable place.
Locally, there are many spaces which become sacred or special places. As an example Johnson shared a story of one student who asked Johnson for advice as to where to propose marriage to his girlfriend. Johnson suggested Fort Mose. So that space became a special place for that couple, Johnson pointed out.
In closing Johnson urged all to “listen and be attentive to others.” Listen to the people who are at your pilgrimage site – whatever that site may be, including the classroom – and connect with them.