Saturday, May 01, 2010

Ah, sabbatical.

Almost a week into sabbatical, I've already noticed several things.

First, I've noticed the itch to get back into the office. It was to be expected, and it hasn't been an alarming or overpowering sort of urge. It's just been that usual compulsion that people have: they're used to being at their place of work, and time off feels strange, and after what is typically no longer than a week they know they'll be back at it. I've had that feeling. I still do. Even now, some part of me, albeit small, feels like I will get up Tuesday morning and go to the church to begin my usual round of weekly pastoral activities. I've had a week it's time to go back, right? That's how it normally works. Except not this time.

Second and closely related to that is the liberation that I have felt. See, the urge I just mentioned is there, but it isn't that strong. Coffeewife will ask me, "What do you have planned for tomorrow?" And I'll reply, "I dunno." And I really don't know. I could read if I wanted. I could take a walk. I could take a nap. I could sit on my porch all day and just stare into space. I could play my bass. I could visit a coffeehouse. With a few exceptions, I don't have much of an itinerary.

The other day, I fell asleep in a chair with a cat on my lap. I can't remember the last time I took a nap. But I did that day, because I could.

Ah, sabbatical.

Third, I've noticed--and have been surprised by--how interwoven the stuff I've done already has been. As I mentioned, I've been reading Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson. I've also been reading Walden. And this past week I attended a two-day program called "Health and Excellence in Ministry." Believe it or not, all of these things have ended up related to each other. Just a week in, I've been making new connections between what I've been reading and learning about pastoral ministry and who I am called to be as both a person and pastor.

I originally was going to use this post to tell you about those connections, but now I don't feel like it. So I'll take another couple days and maybe come up with something then.

Ah, sabbatical.

Fourth and finally--and this is again related to the liberation point above--I've noticed what I do and don't want to do during this time. Originally, I thought I'd rush right in to reading Peterson, but I couldn't bring myself to do it those first couple days. Something inside me wasn't ready yet to start thinking about church and ministry stuff. I had just begun a time of rest, and thus part of me was actively resistant to getting right down to business with the subject matter on which I'd settled for this time.

That's actually why I returned to Walden. I'd kept it on my nightstand, my place marked, fully intending to return to it in June. But since I wasn't yet prepared to tackle my Official Important Sabbatical Project, I continued reading Thoreau. And it's been wonderful. The past week I've largely been reading Thoreau during the day, and maybe a chapter of Peterson in the evening. Maybe. And not always a full chapter.

Coincidentally, or maybe not so much, Walden is filled with images and ideas of a slower life, a life free of clutter and noise and obligation. Would that we could all experience such a life.

Of course, Thoreau only spent two years at Walden Pond. He didn't re-settle his life there. But those two years greatly altered his worldview. He learned about simplicity, about what's really important, and about the vast amount of stuff that isn't. That time of rest was needed in order for him to gain that perspective.

To a certain extent, that's what this time is meant to be. It's been happening with the Official Sabbatical Project, but it's also been happening in a larger sense as I've been able to slow down, take stock, reflect, and choose day by day, moment by moment, what I feel like doing. It won't last forever, but it at least has shown me something about what's important and what can wait.

Ah, sabbatical.