We are home in Pittssfield after a 4+ month sabbatical of joy, discovery, rest, renewal, love,
music and celebration. There is much to say - and live into - because of this sabbatical. I discovered that for the first time in over 35 years I did not have to live into any one's expectation of me as "pastor." That is to say, I was just me - James - fully alive to live, love, make music, pray, fuck up and all the rest. It was liberating.
Last night, after we had packed the car and eaten tourtière (Quebecois meat pie) for dinner, I read two quotes that spoke to this moment in my life. The first is from Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche, who in his insightful book, Becoming Human, wrote: "I realize more deeply how spirituality flows from being human, or rather, how spirituality is being fully human and so shapes our lives and our humanity." That rings so true - and so liberating - to me. For 35 years I have been defined - and let myself be shaped - by my public role as pastor. Don't get me wrong, there is a place for this role. But it is not the totality of me. Stepping away from church and ALL roles and expectations gave me a chance to breath and live and James.
The other quote comes from T.S. Eliot's poem, Little Gidding, wherein he writes: "What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from." I had two days of intense grief at the close of this sabbatical - and I suspect there is more to come - because it has been so holy and free for both Dianne and myself. To consider an end to this joy literally caused me to weep and gasp as if I were suffocating. But all throughout our drive home I came to realize that one adventure has ended - as all adventures must - and another has begun. And this one is even more mysterious that the sabbatical adventure because not only does it involve me being fully me as musician, writer, friend, lover, father, grandfather, person of faith and sinner who also just happens to be pastor, but it is open ended. The sabbatical had a clear start and finish. Not so this chapter of life's adventure. Eliot got it rite: the end IS where we start from."
Tomorrow we are going to sort through ALL our clothes (we did this before the sabbatical but now we'll add everything) and begin a thorough shedding of everything that does not have value. Over the next few months we'll do the same thing with our belongings. We'll be painting and repairing parts of the house, adding new art and making this place work for us so that we can create art and music and spiritual reflections that make our souls sing. Not only was it essential for me to leave, but also to return. For the next few weeks I will only be working part of each day as I transition back into the groove.
To paraphrase Vanier, this sabbatical has helped me "regain trust in myself" again - to know the reason why I was born - and for this I give thanks to the Lord. I have started to write a book - perhaps destined only for my grandson (and maybe my daughters, we shall see) - that I am calling a "spirituality of tenderness." I started to include my insights in this blog, but am going to retreat from any more public sharing until the book is completed. I suspect that will take me into November if I work at it every day. The words of the prophet Isaiah resonate so deeply within: "he will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard on the street; a bruised reed he will not break or a flickering wick he will not quench." (Isaiah 42:2-3) This is my season for quiet and contemplative compassion and I intend to honor it as fully as I can.
I will also be doing more and more reflective music making - practicing, improvising, creating - and I need to give time and space to this art, too. It was just one year ago this week that my father began his rapid descent into death: he entered the hospital in early September and by mid October was gone. Life is too short and my time too precious to waste. As Ralph Heintzman writes in Rediscovering Reverence:
In our modern world, the hunger for reverence sometimes expresses itself in
surprising ways. Starved for other ways to express itself, reverence re-emerges in the new forms... the rock concert, the most pit, the rave are all expressions of a hungry search for connectedness and ritual that are not satisfied in other ways. ... as the American classical scholar, Paul Woodruff, remarks, what modern societies have lost is not reverence itself, but rather the very idea of reverence."
It is to a small and tender recovery of reverence, awe that I sense a renewed calling beginning as this sabbatical ends..I like the prayer John Philip Newell for this evening:.
At the ending of the day
in the quiet of the hours
at the interplay of light and dark
we wait with the earth as it rest's
that we may give thanks for darkness
that we may open to night's senses
that we may remember
the ground from which we come
and from which we know You
as presence in the mystery
as Evening Breeze in our soul
as Everlasting Strength in earth's body
At the ending of the day we wait
that we may know You
as Lover of the night
As Lover of the night.
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