Monday, November 26, 2012

Sabbatical -- Sabbath

Rev. Jim Allan
I want to tell you about mySabbatical. Firstly, what is a sabbatical? Well, in its origin, it is the Sabbath, the seventh day, when God rested after creating the world, so it is a day of rest. The idea was extended to the years of our lives, with the idea that one might benefit from a year off every seven years. That has never happened in the United Church because a year is too long for a congregation to go without their minister, so we had no sabbaticals. Until about ten years ago when someone thought it might reduce the burn-out rate among ministers, so they instituted a three-month sabbatical after five years in a pastoral charge. That is what I did last Spring—I was on Sabbatical for May, June, and July.
I planned to do some reading, some travelling, some program planning in the area of spirituality, and some photography.
The spirituality program has not happened yet, because I decided to do Bible 101 this Fall instead, but it will eventually. Spirituality is one of those things that operates at such a deep level it is hard to imagine how to teach it. But I have lots of ideas I want to try.
The traveling part was the centre-piece. My wife, Dawn, and I toured Ireland and Scotland, then took a Baltic cruise. It was 30 days, with every day filled with something wondrous.
I did not follow a prescribed reading plan, I just followed my nose, that is, I followed the Spirit where it led, and it led me to some areas of reading that have become ongoing areas of fascination, including the Protestant Reformation, the Paradise theology of Rita Nakashima Brock, and the strife in Northern Ireland. Nothing benign here—all contentious and revolutionary—way different than anything I would have planned on my own; that is what makes it feel Spirit-led.
The photography was the artistic part. I wanted my sabbatical to include an artistic dimension, because I believe that artistic creativity is an integral part of our spirituality. So I tried to take pictures that capture the spirit of the thing I saw. I want these pictures to enable me to share my experience, not just the sights.
Beyond all of this, I intended to be open to the leading of the Spirit and to follow where it leads, trusting that it will be a way into life for me. And I have let it be a time apart from the treadmill of the calendars and schedules, stress and pressure—a time to flow more gently through the moments of my days. Consequently, I have come back soul-restored and awakened. And this is the true and original purpose of the Sabbatical—and indeed, of the Sabbath. Our souls need this, not just every five or seven years, but every week.
Within each seven-day cycle of our lives we need to dedicate some time to that which will return us refreshed (Psalm 23:3a), and return us with that which is unpredictable, because we have risked letting the Spirit lead us wherever it will lead.

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