This time has gone by quickly! But my four days and three nights at St. Andrew's Abbey (a Benedictine monastery in Valyermo, California) has been a rich time of reflection, reading, worship, listening and breathing (slowly, in… now, out…). I am looking forward to my journey here once again at the end of my sabbatical.
I finished reading The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan (for the second time), and have been doubly blessed. In fact, I want to study this topic more, so I'm going to order some other books on the subject and read them during my sabbatical. There is much for me to learn and, even more importantly, to practice! I knew this going in, but it has crystallized for me in these four days of retreat.
I have also decided that I am going to read some books on the Civil War. One thing that Buchanan taught me is that we too often choose things based on their utilitarian value. So I was thinking that I would study something that has absolutely no relevance to my "work". And the Civil War has always fascinated me (my father and mother came from Virginia and Michigan, respectively; what that has to do with it, I don't know!). So, anyway, that's what I want to do.
My "plan" (subject to change) is to arise early (that's the part I'm not sure of) and devote myself to God, then go for a brisk walk (taking my son along if I can pry him out of his room), then eat a healthy (and sparse) breakfast. After breakfast, to engage in some reading, and then the rest of the day is not so clear. I want to study Spanish, work on my music (guitar and trumpet), do more reading, watch (or go to) baseball games, etc. etc. etc! Wish me luck!
Actually, pray for me. I want to be disciplined, but not to the point of being straight-jacketed. I want to "accomplish" enough to make this time fruitful, but at the same time, I need to rest and be refreshed.
One thing I am realizing is that this sabbatical will not "fix" me. In other words, I cannot believe that I will come out of this three-month sabbatical all perfect, disciplined, tanned, slim and ready to take on the world! Right now my biggest hope is that I will develop some good habits, catch up on some rest and re-creation, enrich my life a little, and learn to practice Sabbath, so that I won't get into this condition again!
Like I said, pray for me!
Fasting and Feasting
In my reading of The Rest of God, Buchanan makes the point that we don't know how to feast anymore, because we feast all the time! That is so true for me. I indulge myself daily (speaking mostly of food, but other things, too) so that when "feast days" come (holidays, Sabbath, family gatherings, celebrations) they aren't much different from our other days. In the ancient world, that was not so. Mostly because people were poor and could not feast every day, but also because they understood that if you feast every day, the real feast days will mean nothing. That's what has happened in our culture. So I am going to make a major effort to eat (etc.) more frugally on "normal" days and reserve my feasting to Sabbath (and other feast days). That way, the feast will be more meaningful and special, and I'll lose some weight!
Speaking of his need for sabbatical, Buchanan has a paragraph (on p. 154) that reads as if I wrote it (although he says it much better, of course):
Somewhere I got dull. The child got old, the warrior timid. Again, I think I know how this happened—a combination of growing responsibility and increased privilege—but so what? Somewhere, I started to play things safe. I started to fall back on tried, tired methods of doing things and stopped asking God each day whether I should fight or not fight, go up or go down. I got formulaic in my thinking. I got hidebound in my routines. In the spring, when kings go out to war, I started to stay home, wander bored and restless on the palace roof, looking for something to make me feel young again.
Then, speaking of his desired result of the sabbatical (he wrote the book while on sabbatical), he writes (again, this could be me if I were a gifted writer) on p. 153:
I want to return to my work slow to speak, quick to listen, slow to become angry. I want to hide more things in my heart and ponder them there. I want to return with a sharper instinct to pray, to want a stronger conviction that, though God welcomes my honest efforts, he manages quite fine without my Peter-like outbursts of ill-conceived enthusiasm and then sudden loss of nerve, my opinion swapping and bully tactics, my reckless volunteerism to fix things for God and then desperate evacuation when things go wrong.
Like Samuel, I can be very busy for God, doing God-things, and still not know Him. Doing God-things is good; doing them without knowing God is foolhardy. "Seek FIRST the kingdom…" I knew that! But NOW I remember.
Thanks be unto God!
Now, where are those tablets? It's time to head down the mountain…