I began my sabbatical time in June by examining the age old question of doing vs. being; is it what I do that makes me “me?” Or it who I am, regardless of what I choose to do?
With this question in mind, I began my three month sabbatical by taking a five day silent retreat at the Jesuit Center for Spirituality in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. The center is located in an old boarding school for boys, surrounded by beautiful live oak trees and green pastures. Each day was extremely simple. I went to a daily meeting with my spiritual director. That was it. It was suggested that I spend the rest of each day in silence and prayer. Even meal times were silent. My spiritual director asked me not to take on extra reading or self examination, but to sit in silence with the verse “be still and know that I am God.” By the fourth day this waiting paid spiritual dividends. Old hurts, losses, and doubts surfaced only to have God’s gentle Spirit assure me that I am God’s beloved child not because of what I do, but because of who I am, a baptized child of God. Just being is enough, just understanding who I am, who I belong to, gave me deep peace and a feeling of renewal. God’s grace was fully present in each moment.
While at the Jesuit Center for Spirituality, I was able to visit my Uncle Donald. My Uncle Donald just celebrated his Jubilee, which means he has served as a Jesuit priest for 70 years! He has lived an active life of both doing and being with Jesus. He has primarily served parishes in Paraguay, Guatemala, and El Salvador. In my uncle’s room, I smiled when I saw a large picture of Oscar Romero, the martyred Roman Catholic Bishop of El Salvador. Romero’s martyrdom, along with six Jesuit priests, led my Uncle Donald to leave his then comfortable post at a Houston High School to live with the poor in El Salvador. Here he learned to walk in solidarity with the poor and to live a gospel centered life.
After the silent retreat I was able to visit more family in Lousiana, before returning home to Memphis, to prepare to embark with Lisa on our “great western trip.” Lisa and I loaded up our car and drove west to Albuquerque, New Mexico for a conference on the adult Catechumenate. The conference was located at the Basque Center, a beautiful Episcopal retreat center on the Rio Grande River. Each day began with worship services led by composer Marty Haugen whose liturgical music we are familiar with at St. Luke. The Adult Catechumenate is about discipleship and faith formation for adults seeking baptism. Lisa and I enjoyed the worship, lectures, music and making new friends at the conference.
After several days in Albuquerque, we traveled into Navaho land to a remote canyon of stunning beauty called Canyon De Chelly National Monument in Arizona. Here we set out for an early morning hike from the canyon rim to the floor of the canyon. We were treated to black streaked canyon walls, ancient pueblo ruins, cotton wood trees and a few Navaho hogans. The Hogan is a traditional Navajo hut built of logs and earth, used for residential and/or ceremonial purposes.
Our next stop was to visit my sister Mary gay, her husband Bill and their daughter Cassidy, who live in Cortez, Colorado, just outside of Mesa Verde National Park. Our nephew Benet’s children were visiting from Louisiana for the summer as well. Mary gay and Bill’s oldest son Colin lives in Cortez with his wife and their two sons, and we enjoyed sharing meals and adventures together. We were treated with private accommodations in Cassidy’s “yurt.” A yurt is a round living structure used by Mongolian people. This modern Colorado yurt consisted of a kitchen, bedroom, full bathroom, living and dining area. From the deck of the yurt and surrounding six acres, we had a view of the mesas of Mesa Verde National Park in one direction, and the Sleeping Ute Mountains in another. It was a pleasure to enjoy the flavor of fresh eggs every morning from Cassidy’s chickens, and to spend time getting to know and help care for Cassidy’s horses, chickens, duck, dogs, and cats. The 6000 ft of elevation gave us warm days and wonderfully cold nights. We really enjoyed our time with family in the mountains.
After spending the fourth of July in Cortez, we headed further west to Zion National Park in Utah. We stayed in a charming bed and breakfast in Springdale, Utah. Zion National Park was impressive with its huge reddish orange canyon walls and rock formations. I was able to hike one morning to Park Point and enjoy the majestic view from the top of the canyon.
Our final leg of the journey was to continue west to San Francisco, California, to stay a week with Lisa’s Uncle Cliff. However, the drive from Zion to San Francisco would be through miles and miles of isolated desert followed by torn up Hwy 5, which runs North/South through California’s farmlands. After experiencing a flat tire late one night on Hwy 5, a few hours outside of San Francisco, we decided to drive to the nearest hotel, and to spend half of the next day on getting our car refitted by investing in four new tires. We knew we still had plenty of miles to go on this trip.
Once in San Francisco we were eager to experience the city on the bay. Uncle Cliff and I had made plans to cycle around the bay area, and we spend the first four days riding bikes on the Pacific Coast highway, the Marian headlands across the bay, Presidio Park, and Golden Gate Park and bridge. Riding bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge, then through redwood groves and along the pacific coast was a dream come true for me. Lisa and I enjoyed a week of cool temperatures (50 degrees at night and 60 degrees during the day), great food, and fun visiting with Uncle Cliff. It was hard to leave the beauty of San Francisco, but we were now eager to get home.
The ride home would be over 2,000 miles, which we covered in three full days of driving. Thankfully all went smoothly on the return trip and we returned home happy and tired to the heat of summer in Memphis.
Along with lots of reading, my final educational component of the sabbatical was to attend by video conferencing “The Global Leadership Summit,” hosted by Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis. This was two days packed full of lectures and seminars on leadership. My favorite speakers were Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation, author John Maxwell, and Chris McChesney author of The Four Disciplines of Execution.
I have been blessed to have extended time for reading and contemplative prayer this summer. Sitting still to listen for God is not reserved for time spent away at retreat centers. I have grown in this spiritual discipline while on sabbatical and I hope to continue to grow in this spiritual practice. As I know and experience my place with and in God, I pray God will lead me to deeper ministry in my daily life. I pray to see each day as a gift full of opportunity to live as a child of God and to live in the present moment in the bountiful Kingdom of God.
I am grateful to all the St. Luke Saints, and to the Southeastern Synod grant that helped to make this sabbatical possible. This time of study and recreation is a treasured gift. I am also most grateful for Pastor White’s pastoral care in my absence. I thank God for Pastor White and all of the supply pastors, the worship committee, congregational council, President Gary Conway, and of course our wonderful St. Luke church staff; Jennifer Wright for taking our St. Luke youth on two youth trips, Patti Calvert for managing the church office, David Potter for leading music, and Mac McKinney for maintaining the property. Speaking of property, the new pavilion was completed while I was away and it is so good to see it finished. This new pavilion will be an anchor for outdoor activities at St. Luke for generations to come. Many thanks once again for all of the generous gifts that made this possible.
It is not possible to express all of my thanks and gratitude for the gift of this sabbatical. I am privileged to serve at such a loving and supportive congregation. Fourteen years have come and gone so quickly that I imagine the next fourteen will come and go just as fast. The time we have before us to continue to love and serve God together is also a gift.
I look forward to seeing all of you Sunday, September 4th, for worship. Remember this will be Jersey Sunday, so wear your favorite sports jersey and we will share tailgate food and fellowship after the service.
Grace and Peace,