Grace to you
Every seven years Methodist ministers are given a three-month sabbatical. My sabbatical starts tomorrow and I will be away until the middle of August. This is my third sabbatical and each time I realise that it is not only a gift to myself but also for the congregation. For a congregation who listens to me preach week in and week out, I think it is important to hear different voices telling different stories from different perspectives. If there is anything that I say that is truthful then at most it is just a tiny slither of a much larger and brighter Light. Listening to varied voices will thicken our faith and stretch our understanding. So over the next 10 weeks there will be a different voice every week – my hope is that we will be open to hear new truth.
I can’t easily imagine life without the rhythm of sermon preparation each week. This discipline is so engrained in my being which is both a gift and danger. The gift is that it keeps me rowing out into the depths each week – even when I would prefer to splash around in the shallows. The danger is that the rhythm is so engrained it can be little more than a habit on auto-pilot or a task to tick off each week or perhaps even worse, a show to put on for your entertainment.
The purpose of a sabbatical is not only to relax and rest which is of course crucial for renewed vitality – but also to revisit areas neglected and review areas of focus: Basically to unplug and push the reset button to be ready for a new season.
In the past I have filled my sabbaticals with much activity and new experiences. This time round when I have tried to make plans they all felt like an avoidance strategy. So I have no plans. And I am hoping to stick to that plan. To embrace emptiness. To welcome nothingness. To face boredom. To wander the wilderness.
In the Bible the people were instructed to let the fields lie fallow every 7th year. One definition of fallow is: land left unseeded after being ploughed and harrowed to regain fertility for a crop. Renewed fertility is the aim of fallow.
Winnie the Pooh puts it simply: “Doing nothing leads to the best kind of something”. This is my hope that nothing will lead me to something. I look forward to returning fertile for a crop…
“O persistent God,
deliver me from assuming your mercy is gentle
pressure me that I may grow more human,
not through the lessening of my struggles,
But through the expansion of them.
That will undamn me
and unbury my gifts.
Deepen my hurt
until I learn to share it
and my needs honestly.
Sharpen my fears
until I name them
and release the power I have locked in them
and they in me.
Accentuate my confusion
until I shed those grandiose expectations
that divert me from the small, glad gifts
of the now and the here and the me.
Expose my shame where it shivers,
crouched behind the curtains of propriety,
until I can laugh at last through my common frailties
laugh my way toward becoming whole.
O persistent God let how much it all matters pry me off dead center so if I am moved inside to tears or sighs or screams or smiles or dreams they will be real and I will be in touch with who I am and who you are and who my sisters and brothers are.
O God, help me to believe in beginnings and in my beginning again, no matter how often I’ve failed before…help me to make a beginning and to be a beginning for others.”
~ Ted Loder