worship for four months; today is the first Sunday of our sabbatical. I worked a few days last week - mostly checking in with my staff and following up a few details - but then we headed out of town one day early, too. "Why wait around when we're all packed?" we said to one another. So we didn't.
The Lilly Foundation folk recommend that the front end of a sabbatical include a transition time for slowing down. Born of experience, this practice not only creates space to let your old work habits slip away into temporary irrelevance, but also gives you time to think about and feel what this departure means. It is part of refreshing an integrated body/mind - and I am beginning to sense why such a reprieve must be done slowly. First, new disciplines of the soul never take root on the cheap. In asking my spiritual director in Cleveland about how I might partake of a smorgasbord of Lenten deprivations, he smiled and said, "Man, see if you can just light one candle each day and sit quietly for 20 minutes. Go slowly because nobody changes when they are in a hurry."
Yesterday, after walking and getting caught up in the buzz of Gotham, we came back to the apartment for a nap. I crashed soundly for 30 minutes but then felt slightly agitated at the thought of simply sitting quietly for the rest of the evening. No TV, no CD player, no movement while the heart of Saturday night raced on in the East Village all around me. It was a little unnerving to realize how uncomfortable I felt just being. And so the wise ones say: give yourself a few weeks of transition time.
Second, after being on the go for the past eight years doing the work of church renewal, I am not very good with connecting my inner restlessness with any of the time-tested contemplative practices designed to help me go into the darkness. Vacations are one thing - and mini-get-aways are sweet - but they do not nurture introspection. Rather, they work to distract or diminish my frenetic interior, not bring it healing. Such soul repair is something this type of sabbatical is supposed to support. There is no product to this time away - I don't have to write a book or come back with a presentation - rather I have been given the privilege of resting and reflecting.
As the foundation's promotional material puts it: time, space, resources and ministry have been set aside so that I might rediscover what makes my soul sing? Yes, I've paid my dues in my current ministry - and my life-long commitment to the church - and this sabbatical honors that with care and respect. But this encounter is NOT about looking backwards; it is grace to go into the future with refreshment, faith, hope and love. This is about cultivating gravitas in concert with renewed contemplative practices. As Gertrud Mueller-Nelson wrote: nothing of value comes into being quickly - not a birth, not a living plant, not wisdom or good soup -- it all takes simmering time before it is ready.
Today, for example, my first Sunday away from my faith community, we are simply drinking tea,
eating biscotti and reading the NY Times. I am taking time to think and write; Di is taking time to learn about her new camera. Later this afternoon we'll take a cab uptown to St. Peter's Church for 5 pm Jazz Vespers. This is one of the birthing centers of jazz liturgy in America and I want to check out how they do it. Then, we'll take another cab over to have dinner with the kids in Brooklyn. Mike is cooking a spaghetti sauce with ground lamb and we'll get to play with Louie one more time.
For years I have said that one of my favorite Psalms is 131:
LORD, I am not high-minded : I have no proud looks.
I do not exercise myself in great matters : which are too high for me.
But I refrain my soul, and keep it low, like as a child that is weaned from his mother : yea, my soul is even as a weaned child.
O Israel, trust in the Lord : from this time forth for evermore.
Now I get the chance to live into it slowly. Thanks be to God.