Sabbatical Ending: Lingering Gifts


My sabbatical co-workers
October 27 2013

My sabbatical is over in five days. 
I have sensed the boat coming closer for a week or so now, can make out the shapes of people in it, and feel the growing excitement and nervousness of impending reunion. Last week I had a spectacular dream of returning that contained a lot of fanciful impossibilities but a very real sense of love and pride for my people, and I’ve felt the glow of that dream cling to me ever sense. 
I miss them.
I am looking forward to being with them again.
I am eager to begin catching up, to seeing what has happened in them and discovering what has happened in me. 

I am trying very hard not to jump the gun, begin sermon planning, arrange meetings for the first week, reinstate my email or make a few preliminary calls.  
Friday is my first day. 
I will turn up at my office on Friday and I will begin again.  
Between now and then, I will enjoy each moment and take each day as the gift that it is.

Two weeks into this thing a wise person told me that I would figure out my sabbatical just as it was ending. He couldn’t have been more right. In the last few days I have noticed that I feel settled, connected, rested and invigorated, and crystal clear about some things I value highly (more on this later).  I feel awake in a deep sense, present in my own skin, observant and not just reactionary. 
I suspect I have months of unpacking and reflecting to begin understanding what this sabbatical is teaching me and doing in me.  But from this vantage I can already see three big movements.

The first month was a kind of frenetic energy, jigsaw puzzles and crazy dreams, spinning thoughts and constant movement, purging release and crashing fatigue. 

The second month I hunkered down and hid, finding myself suddenly aggressively resting and actively withdrawing in an unexpected mental shutdown, a vacuum of energy, both diminished capacity and deep calm.  It felt hard to string together sentences.

This last month has been defined by spontaneity, generosity, presence, and imagination.  I have felt both light and playful, and connected and settled. Calmer. Focused. Present.  I have been able to think about my thinking, have feelings about my emotions, witness my own being as I act.  I've reacted simultaneously with detached perspective and a profound sense of participation in my own life.
I have been gentler with myself than I have been in years.
Less pressure, more space. Less criticism, more grace.
I have had room to meet people where they are, to respond in the moment to what comes up.
I’ve planned less and participated more.

I've made better friends with Time. Instead of tugging and manipulating it, fighting it and resenting it, I've eased alongside it, submitting to its flow. I've practiced doing less. Far less. And I feel less defensive and more curious, less rushed and more available to delight in each day, not one of which has turned out like I thought it would when I awoke that morning.
I feel grateful.

For three months I have had almost no contact at all with my congregation, and stepped out of my presbytery role completely.  I haven’t seen emails or heard announcements, haven’t been privy to gossip or pulled in to prayer needs.  
I have truly been away.  Being held by God as I have trusted God is holding them.  
I’ve read and rested, tried my hand at pottery and mosaic, traveled and adventured, hung out with my kids and husband in fascinating places and nowhere at all, played with my new puppy and walked with my old dog.  
I’ve had amazing conversations, made new friends, and been absolutely alone.  
I've faced uncomfortable self-awareness, and the comfortable kind too.  
My children commandeered my laptop (for Minecraft and Club Penguin) and I’ve hardly touched it for three solid months.  Before sabbatical I don’t think I'd ever gone more than three hours.

Return will be a bit of a shock for all of us.
But I want to reenter ordinary time with vulnerable strength, open to whatever comes up, knowing God will meet me there as God has met me here.

At the end of Sabbath time, in the Jewish tradition, a bowl of spices is passed from person to person, the fragrance inhaled deeply and the question reflected upon, What do I wish to take with me from this Sabbath rest into the rest of my week?  What gifts of Sabbath will sustain me as I step out of this sacred time into ordinary time?
This week I will breathe in deeply.  And I will meditate on the gifts of this sabbatical.
Space.
Gentleness.
Hospitality.
Groundedness.
Curiousity.
Compassion.
Roominess and Boundaries. 
Imagination.
Mindfulness.
Clarity.
Grace.
These are some gifts I take with me; these are some blessings that sustain me.
O Lord, my God, thank you, thank you, thank you. For all, all, all. 

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