Jessica reflects on her recent sabbatical
The gifts of sabbatical were many, but three are vivid reminders of why our faith tradition insists that rest is as important to human beings as their work. Sabbatical offered me time, space, and companions who could help me:
- rediscover and reorient my life around what’s sacred, to remind my soul of the beauty and life that’s possible for us and our world.
- get to know God in new ways through other people’s eyes and blessings.
- consider my journey to this point and what might lie ahead.
- Being reoriented around the sacred: Perhaps the most poignant moment of my whole summer happened in a really unremarkable hotel room outside of the Denver airport. I had just come in from a week of hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park with a group of 9 strangers and guides. My only responsibilities in life that week had been to wake up, get my pack on, hike, be grateful and kind to the people around me, and marvel at the beauty that God and human beings had conspired to sustain and preserve. I hadn’t had cell service or wifi in the park. So in that non-descript hotel room, as I took things out of my grungy pack, one by one, I noticed that other things fell from my shoulders. The unreasonable expectations I carry around for myself, the walls I’d built to protect myself from things others might do to hurt me, the feelings of uber responsibility for knowing so much about everyone all the time (thanks, smart phones)… And, I was left with a feeling of ease and relief I’ve only felt a few times in my life. It was so easy in those moments to know deep, deep in my being what matters, what’s sacred, what’s worth investing my time in, who I’m called to love, and who loves me well.
- Getting to know God in new ways: Late in the summer, I was in Trivandrum (India) in a bit of a stop-over. Travis had just left to return home to the states. I was spending a couple of days on my own seeing the sights and reading by the shore, waiting for my time at the yoga ashram to start. So, I went for a good run, sat down to consider the sunset on the Arabian Sea. As I was getting up to go pack my bags, a man named Joseph, one of the hotel staff members came over to help me with my things. He asked how long I’d be staying. I told him I’d be leaving in the morning. He said, Well, God be with you. I will be praying for your safe travels. And, being that I was in Kerala, home to most of the Christian population of India and this man’s name was Joseph, I very much assume this man was Christian. And that’s never mattered much to me in my life, whether someone was Christian or not. If someone offers me a blessing, I’ll take it, no matter what name they utter before they pray. Earlier that week, I had received many, many blessings from Hindu priests, Jain temple attendants, Sikh worshipers, and Muslim pilgrims at a Sufi shrine. I cherished every single one of them and was reminded of how big and boundless God is and how generous people can be: that I could go as far from home as humanly possible and find people willing to bless me, just because I was another human who showed up in their space. These people who knew God in a different way than I had known God helped me feel a little sense of home when I was far away from home. And, yet, something deep in my soul leapt when Joseph, the Keralan Christian blessed me in the name and cadence and spirit of God as I had come to know God. Here is a man who knows God in much the same way as I know God, and in that encounter, I felt that pang of homesickness that you don’t feel until you get back home, that recognition that you still have a home worth longing for. It was a moment of profound spiritual renewal for me. This simple encounter that reminded me of the blessing of Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek that I talked about in the Fellowship Hall worship service a few weeks ago: if we’re open to trusting the blessings of strangers, we have the opportunity to know God’s blessings in ways we could never imagine.
- Considering my journey and what lies ahead: When people ask about my sabbatical, they often want to know about what am I thinking about where I’m headed from here. “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”, they’ll ask. The truth is that as I ended my sabbatical I couldn’t answer those questions any better than I could have when I left. I might even have fewer clear thoughts about it now than when I embarked on my rambling journey. But here’s what my summer taught me about how to approach those questions: I engaged my summer with the following strategy as summed up by the Sufi poet Rumi, “let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray”. Looking back over my sabbatical, it became very clear to me what I love, because I had been able to do just about whatever I wanted to do. I love reading good books. I love cooking with my husband, who’s a great sous chef and has endless patience for my culinary experiments. I love being a good friend and creating spaces for other people to cultivate friendships. I love meeting new people and learning a little more about the world by trying to see it through their eyes. I love music and art. I love getting out into the fresh air and wide open spaces and seeing how far I can go and then figuring out how to muster the strength and sense of direction to get back. And, I love my home, and I don’t mean my house, though I am very grateful for that. I mean my home: the people with whom I do life day in and day out. The people who welcome me back after every sojourn, whether it be into the wider world or the wild places of my heart and mind. The people I’m grateful to call friends, family, neighbors, and church.
Click here to see my sabbatical reading list.