riding sadness into wisdom...

We are home. The mystery of the sabbatical adventure is over - at least for the time being. To say that we are both perplexed about how to return to our former outward lives after the inner shifts and changes that took place in Montreal would be an understatement. This challenge, too will be an unfolding mystery although right now it doesn't feel nearly as fun as the one born of sabbatical. And although Di and I are at different stages of our exploration of next steps, we have thankfully learned how to "ride sadness into wisdom" (William O. Roberts.) This takes place mostly by waiting, listening, watching, discerning, discussing and then carefully testing out our hunches rather than jumping wildly into some new opportunity or action.

To date we know that we have made some important shifts in our priorities and habits as a result of our sabbatical:  the importance of unplugging from busyness is paramount. By busyness I mean both the frantic hyper-scheduling that is so common place, and, the urge to be productive and useful. Jean Vanier of L'Arche notes that he learned how to be fully free and truly human by nourishing tenderness in himself, in his relationships and in his intimacy with God. He writes in Becoming Human:

Tenderness is the language of the body as a mother holds her child, as a nurse touches the patient's wound, or as an assistant bathes someone with severe disabilities... Tenderness is the language of the body speaking of respect; thus, the body honors whatever it touches; it honors reality. It does not as as if reality itself must be changed or possessed; reality belongs to humanity and to God... There is no fear in tenderness. Tenderness is not weakness, lack of strength or sloppiness; tenderness is filled with strength, respect and wisdom. In tenderness, we know how and when to touch someone to help me to be and be well.

"Through tenderness," he concludes, "I have learned in some small way to inhabit my body and to see it not just as a channel for therapy, but as a way of revealing my heart and of being in communion with others... it has led me to a new inner wholeness, a unity between my affectivity and my intelligence."  This speaks to what I discovered and joyfully embraced while we were in Montreal. It is what I seek to nourish now that we are back.

So we are playfully entertaining three clues about how to live into the blessings of the sabbatical in our new/old lives in the hope that as autumn and winter embrace us we might continue to ripen as tender souls. I believe it was Albert Eisenstein who said, "No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it." To that end:

+ First, we have started discarding and stream-lining:  While living in another's home in NYC, Pittsburgh, Montreal and Potton this summer, we discovered how little we really need in order to live well. Each Air BnB was beautiful but very simple. When we returned home we saw our house through new eyes. Further, our friends who had stayed here had made some changes - dealt with some of our clutter - and that gave us some new perspective, too. The abundance of clutter all around us is troubling: not only because there is just too much stuff, but it speaks of how our lives have been weighted down by the past, by the expectations of others, by our own histories, by shame and fear and so much more. Consequently, we have initiated a radical discarding that will take place until we are down to the possessions that bring us joy and are useful for our creative endeavors.  We will start painting the living room next week. Adding long buried art treasures to the walls and giving away - or throwing away - tons of clutter, too. 

+ Second, we have renewed our intentional fast from TV and most news coverage: I have been a TV addict all my life. I used to be able to tell you what time it was given what program was on the screen. Over the past five years - as we wrestled and avoided our various stages of grief - we have both come to rely too much on the television as an easy distraction. Thankfully, in the East Village there was no TV - and the same was true in Nashville and Pittsburgh. By the time we hit Montreal we were moving towards liberation but found ourselves falling back into old habits. So, we covered the screen with a beautiful tapestry and never turned it on again. One of the first things I did when we hit Pittsfield was to cover our TV so that we continue to make time to read to one another. And have giggle fits together. And talk over dinner (and breakfast) rather than take in the news or some cop show. We will be disconnecting from the cable service as the month unfolds.

+ Third, we have learned how to care for our aging bodies more intentionally:  Slowly but surely over the last 10 years I've added too many pounds. I've gotten out of the habit of daily exercise and quiet meditation. Our sabbatical time - and sabbatical re-entry plan - was created to help me make a change. Most days we walked 3-6 miles through Montreal - sometimes much more. Nearly every day I had quiet time to think, pray, write and practice the upright bass. And so, as we discard the clutter and old habits and expectations, we are building in time for both exercise and prayer. Included in this caring is spending more time with our children and grand son as this is just as enriching as any other sacred practice. My colleague at church and I have set aside weekly time to explore new music, too. And I continue to claim time each day for quiet reflection and writing.

It will likely take a full year of quiet reflection to figure out more fully what this sabbatical will mean to ourselves and to the congregation we serve. I want to be open to the possibilities. At the same time, we are both clear about some of the personal changes we must continue to live into so that we don't lose the tenderness that has been encouraged by the Spirit during this sacred time. Ok, now it is off to do some work in our bedroom, take Lucie for a walk, practice the bass and then join our children and loved ones for a country dinner in Plainfield.


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