As my three month sabbatical comes to a close, I'm actively preparing to return to my work as pastor. Right now this means trying to crystallize in my mind the lessons I've learned during this time away. I'm hoping this will give me perspective personally and focus my sharing with others some of the benefits of being away. (I'll have the privilege of developing these thoughts with our congregation when I preach August 29.)
In short, it's been a refreshing time. If author Eugene Peterson is correct in his summary of the two sabbath commandment texts (in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5), then the fourth commandment calls us to both "praying" and "playing." Sabbath-keeping and sabbatical call us to unplug from the often draining routines of our work and tap into the underlying rhythms of rest that God has hard-wired into creation. In sabbath rest, we reflect on God and seek to more purposely relate to him (praying); we also let down our hair (or what's left of it!) and play with abandon, giving thanks for this good gift.
This sabbatical has been a great time for playing. Travel out of state and out of country have been wonderful highlights. I've renewed friendships with pastor buddies and high school pals. I've seen all my old groomsmen. I've sampled tastes of Italy with my family. I've ridden my bike up some pretty cool climbs in California, Arizona, and Colorado. I've pedaled the rolling forests of Wisconsin's Northwoods. I've gone on some great runs. I've spent some time in the kitchen cooking. I've eaten good food and enjoyed delicious beverages. I've golfed pretty regularly with my wife and sons. Life has been good. Playing has been restorative.
Praying's been part of the picture, too. Times formal and informal. Times at home and away. A highlight for me was a couple day trip up to Highlands Camp, a Presbyterian retreat and conference center in nearby Allenspark, CO (www.highlandscamp.org). What a lovely place tended by dedicated people who graciously assist others to draw near to God. And it doesn't hurt that the camp is nestled at the foot of the Mt. Meeker-Longs Peak base! If there's been a consistent theme in my time with God this sabbatical, it's been the renewed invitation to bring my true self, warts and all, to God, trusting in his love and grace and allowing his Spirit to direct me. A very basic message, to be sure. I've been reminded that God first and foremost wants my heart, not my service or even my obedience. With my heart more fully his, the rest will naturally follow.
My reading has focused on the early Church and on contemplative prayer and spirituality. In addition, I've just wrapped up a very helpful (and challenging!) online course by Dr. John Coe of the Talbot School of Theology. It's served as a beacon for me personally and it may be very helpful in the ministry of Spiritual Formation and Discipleship I'm privileged to lead. Check out the course if you're so inclined. It's free. http://tinyurl.com/2ax3prn
Well, the time to return is almost here. I think I'm ready. Fall's in the air and the family is ramping up their routines. It's been a good sabbatical and a great gift to me and to our family as well. I'm very grateful to our generous congregation. Thanks for reading.