Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Well, you needn't...

The second half of a sabbatical is clearly different from the first. I don't think I have read anything about this in the preparatory materials - but it is true. To borrow from Richard Rohr, it is a bit like the difference between first half of life and second half of life living. In the first half, we are all about discovery, freshness and self. Rohr suggests that part one of life is about creating a vessel to contain the soul of part two: it is a vessel that must be emptied and released, too in order that wisdom and humility take up residence within. 

The first half of life container is constructed through impulse controls; traditions; group symbols; family loyalties; basic respect for authority; civil and church laws; and a sense of the goodness, value, and special importance of your country, ethnicity, and religion.

The second half is much more about going deeper rather than acquiring more; it is more about listening and responding than reacting, more about focus  than drive, and more about discernment than recognition. Rohr writes: "There is a deeper Voice of God, which we must learn to hear and obey in the second half of life. It will sound an awful lot like the voices of risk, of trust, of surrender, of soul, of destiny, of love, of an intimate stranger, of one’s deepest self."

When we began this sabbatical - its planning as well as the early days of implementation - it was an adventure. Not only had we never experienced a sabbatical before, but everything about it was new. That is why, of course, the LIly Foundation suggested a time of transition at the front end of our time away. It was to be significantly different from our normal, working days but also more playful than the heart of the extended sabbatical. We were wise to take their advice and planned three weeks of travel and discovery:  NYC, Nashville and Pittsburgh were all fascinating encounters with the wider world of creativity. The same could be said about the first six weeks of our residency in Montreal, too. Here we were learning how our new neighborhood worked, our ears were hearing a mostly new language full-time, we had no established pattern for our days - and resisted creating one - and mostly we joined ourselves to each moment with a light sense of spontaneity. It was very much go with the flow - so we did.

And as the first few days became weeks - and then matured into months - we started to make
changes. First, there was music to be practiced and it wasn't going to become muscle memory simply by thinking about it. Second, there were new places to discover that we yearned to see, but  they had to fit into our  new routine. So lists were made - and new Montreal time-tables created - and little by little the early spontaneity became  tempered by the constraints of time. There truly isn't time for everything, so what is our heart telling us about how best to use the time that remains?  It is, continuing Rohr's construct, a definitive shift, both a bit of letting go as well as a "second naivete."

Paul Ricoeur, the great French philosopher spoke of three stages of life: a first naivete, in which we take things at face value, a critical phase, in which we question everything and try to find the complexity behind the initial simplicity, and a second naivete, during which we return to an acceptance of simplicity, but with the full recognition of the complexity behind it.... This second naivete has, at its heart a vote for some coherence, purpose, benevolence, and direction to the universe. Faith is somehow saying that God is one and God is good, and if so then all of reality must be that simple and beautiful too... Second naivete is not so much blindly optimistic as hopefully wise.This new coherence, a unified field inclusive of the paradoxes, is precisely what characterizes a second-half-of-life person. It feels like a return to simplicity after having learned from all the complexity. Finally, at last, one has lived long enough to see that “everything belongs,” even the sad, absurd and futile parts. In the second half of life, we can give our energy to making even the painful parts and the formally excluded parts belong to the now unified field – especially people who are different, and those who have never had a chance.

When we first envisioned this sabbatical I was certain that there would be lots of time free for travel: I wanted to go to Quebec City, visit friends and explore the countryside north of Montreal. In reality, I have now  had to make a choice: go deeper into my music and rest - the essence of this sabbatical - or do something else. I have let travel go. I have let some exploration go, too. In the time that remains - this time of second naivete - I must accept that limitations are as real as possibilities.  That is, I need to trust that saying "no" to some of my hopes and plans, while saying "yes" to a new discipline, is at the heart of grace even if I don't fully understand it. In the first half of life such decisions made me uncomfortable. They still do, to a degree, but as Thelonious Monk made very clear: if you start doubting this inner wisdom... well, you needn't!

I hope to be able to include a summary of this observation in our closing evaluation to be shared with the Lily Foundation. When we return to full-time ministry in Pittsfield in September, and let ourselves settle in, we will do an extensive evaluation of our time away and the congregation's encounters. Then, after the first of the new year, we will write it all up and share it with the good souls at the Lily Foundation. Last night, as we were listening to a local jam session, I was struck by the fact that the players I liked best were the ones who didn't have to say everything in one song. They are the artists of subtlety - there is just as much silence in their songs as there is sound - and they don't have to fill every space with their personality or prowess. There were some young players, in the first half of life, who made a lot of noise - and that is as it should be. There were also a few young players who were wise beyond their years and one or two older cats who were still making music like they were teen-agers. These older guys bored me - so we left. Such is the discernment, yes? 

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