For many years, I have spent time meditating on Scripture using a variety of methods. One has the following pattern:
- Read the passage three times – once for overall content, a second time very slowly for detail, a third attempting to “enter” the passage…to read it as though “you were there,” observing the action.
- Sit in silence, experiencing that third time through the text.
- Write the “story” as though you were there.
- Thank God for whatever you may have experienced or learned in this time of meditation.
After a wonderful sabbatical taken while I was Bishop of Iowa, I came home and followed that pattern, on a daily basis, over many months, working my way through the Gospel of Mark. During the first part of my sabbatical, I had taken two courses at St. George’s College in Jerusalem – “The Palestine of Jesus” (exploring the territory in and around Jerusalem and up into Galilee) and “A Desert Course” (in which we struck off through the desert in three jeeps with an Egyptian guide and a Bedouin driver, tracing the ancient pilgrim routes toward Mount Sinai).
Early mornings, in my study upon my return, as I worked my way through the first Gospel ever written, I tried to incorporate insights and experiences gleaned during my time in the land of the Holy One as well as some of what New Testament scholarship has taught us about the society in which Jesus lived and the politics – “secular” and “religious” (to the extent that there is a distinction) – of his day.
Since it was an imaginative and even “novelistic” approach to the text, I decided to tell the story from the perspective of a presumed author “John Mark” and to identify him with a rather mysterious figure that appears toward the end of this Gospel. We don’t actually know who wrote Mark’s Gospel, so this may as good a guess as any! I also decided to read the text with modern eyes, but not to change or speculate about the historicity of any specific “facts” recounted in those sixteen chapters.
Having completed the initial manuscript, my life took a series of circuitous turns, including being called by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold to become his deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations, which necessitated resigning as bishop of Iowa and moving to New York to work out of our Church Center headquarters there. So, I put the little book on the back burner for years, only occasionally returning to it to “tweak” things here and there or to do some editorial work. It was only when I retired and moved back to Iowa that I had the time to take it out again and put on the final touches.
I asked my friend, Steven Charleston, resigned bishop of Alaska, former dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Cambridge, and now college professor, to consider bringing the book out under the banner of his new company “Red Moon Publications.” Steven’s wonderful series of meditations, Hope As Old As Fire, was published by this same new company and I am honored to be associated with it.
My hope is that John Mark may be put into the hands of seekers and others who may gain access into the person of Jesus in somewhat different ways than seem available to them initially through the words of the canonical gospels. Obviously, I hope that may in turn drive them into the New Testament itself (hopefully in a good, modern translation) to engage this journey further.
William Temple’s definition of evangelism was “the presentation of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in such a way that persons may be led to believe in him as savior and follow him as lord in the fellowship of the church.” May John Mark become another way this can happen!
C. Christopher Epting, Assisting Bishop