This Is Not a Break-up Letter …
By the time you read this, I’ll be gone. Although that sounds like the beginning of a dysfunctional break-up letter (and I now have a Glen Campbell earworm playing in my head), I’m merely stating the fact that, by the time this issue of The Bell comes out, I’ll be on my three-month sabbatical (plus two weeks of vacation). Although I will miss you all deeply, I’m looking forward to the rest, reflection, and renewal that I anticipate experiencing in the next few months.
As I pondered how I wanted to use this time of renewal over the last few months of preparation, the question that most often resonated for me was, “how does one sustain oneself for long-term ministry?”
The place this question kept leading me to was the practices of monastic communities, especially those that follow the Benedictine Rule of Life. In a monastery, prayer is the framework of life: every several hours, all work is set aside and the entire community engages is the ancient practice of praying the psalms. All other activities of the day—rest, easting, work, study, community engagement—are set within this framework of prayer. In our modern secular life, even for those of us who are spiritual and practice a faith tradition, our secular responsibilities—work, family obligations, household tasks, travel to and from work and home—tend to create the framework of our lives, and we stick prayer into the gaps in that framework when we can.
What if I can learn to approach life with a monastic rhythm, even while living in the secular world? What would it be like to develop a modern monastic practice of praying the hours, establishing that prayer as a framework for all other parts of life?
Since I cannot live in a monastic community for the entire three months of my sabbatical, I’ve sought out a range of experiences that offer the rhythm of communal living, while also exploring prayer and spiritual practice. These experiences, which range from a silent retreat to a work camp, are scheduled in one-month intervals throughout my sabbatical, as a way of keeping me accountable to and reconnecting with my goals on a regular basis.
These are the communities I plan to visit during my sabbatical, as a way to practice living that framework of prayer:
August 27-29: Silent retreat at the New Camaldoli Hermitage, a Benedictine Camaldolese monastery in Big Sur.
September 13-17: Northwest Coast Pilgrimage on the Oregon coast with Heartbeat, an organization that promotes Celtic spirituality (I’ve applied to attend this pilgrimage, but have not yet heard if I’m accepted)
October 7-13: Volunteer Work Week at Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in the eastern Cascades, Washington. I’ll be helping to prepare the center for winter, while also experiencing the camp’s teaching, art, and hiking opportunities, the community, and evening prayer service.
November 2-3: private retreat at Mercy Center in Burlingame, with silent contemplation, labyrinth-walking, and Mercy’s Taizé service.
In addition to exploring the monastic pattern of spiritual practice, I intend to read widely and deeply in several areas of both personal and church interest: church growth and evangelism, early Christianity and early non-canonical Christian writing; Mary Magdalene and other early Christian women leaders; as well as my massive “to be read” pile of novels, poetry, and nonfiction at home.
I also hope to dig into a few personal projects at home, including addressing my many UFO’s (“unfinished objects” in craft-speak), refresh my home garden, reorganize my home office/craft space, and reconnect with friends and family.
Before you know it, it will be November, and I will be back with fresh energy and new ideas; until then, I will hold you all in my prayers and ask for God’s peace and blessings to be upon you.