What I did on my summer sabbatical…

Greetings! It’s so good to be back and engaging in the life of this congregation and community after thirteen weeks of sabbatical time. During my time away, I was fortunate to have some times of deep spiritual exploration combined with opportunities for simple relaxation with my family. The Lilly Endowment’s Clergy Renewal Grant, which funded the whole thing as well as the congregation’s exercises in spiritual growth and renewal, was such a huge gift – one we’re sure will be felt for years to come.

I don’t have space here to share everything that I learned while I was away, but here are some highlights:

  • an 8-day silent retreat at Sacred Heart Retreat Center, a Jesuit center in Colorado. The silence was a wonderful way to start sabbatical. The setting, in the foothills of the Rockies, was breathtaking. My time was a mixture of reading and reflecting, worship, walking, and daily conversations (the only time I spoke) with my spiritual director for the week.
  • a five-day icon writing retreat in Oviedo, Florida. This retreat was a stretch for me – I’m not artistically inclined at all – and was a perfect way to close my time away. I learned about how icons are “written” (that’s the terminology used, both because they are considered to tell important sacred stories, and because the word in Russian for “paint” is apparently the same as one of the words for “write”), and I actually wrote one by myself: a classic icon of Mary called “Theotokos,” which means “God-bearer.” I’d be happy to show her to anyone who’s interested!
  • a month spent in Europe with my family, including a week on the island of Iona in northwestern Scotland. The Iona Community describes itself as “a dispersed Christian ecumenical community working for peace and social justice, rebuilding of community and the renewal of worship.” While there, my sons and I lived in an ancient abbey, worked alongside other pilgrims, and learned about Celtic Christianity as well as community-building. When you consider that we also were in Florence and Paris and Amsterdam and Dublin, saying that Iona was the real gem of our summer will tell you something. God’s presence felt so obvious there, and the community that gathered was just remarkable. As you can see, I’m still struggling to put it into words.

One of the great gifts of sabbatical time was that my life had more balance than when I was working full-steam-ahead. I learned that I’m much more able to be truly present and alive to the people in my life when I honor my own need for rest, beauty, and time for God. As a result of that learning, I’m rebuilding my schedule with a greater awareness of my need for devotional time, writing time, and exercise. One way this has played out has meant that I’m not checking my phone or email in the wee hours of the morning or after 9 pm, barring emergencies. Every morning, I’ve been reading, praying, or knitting, and running a few times each week. In spite of some of the challenges of life, I feel more centered, quiet, and energized, which can only be good! And while I was away, the congregation functioned beautifully! It’s good to be welcomed back, but also good to be non-essential, I guess you’d say.

Throughout the church year and in further writings, I know I’ll have more to say than just these basic details. And after all of those marvelous adventures, I’m pleased to say that it feels very, very good to be home and back with my church family. I missed you all!

yours in faith,