This was the placard outside of the room I stayed in on retreat at the Abbey of New Clairvaux at the beginning of my sabbatical. I remember arriving at the Abbey in Vina under very dark, rainy skies. Just 13 days earlier I had been awakened by a rather large incense cedar tree crashing through the Rectory roof at the far side of the house. That night, we picked up what we could and headed to a local hotel; three adults (one an eighteen year old) and two very anxious dogs. No one slept. This began several days of figuring out what to do next. We located a place to stay on a longer term basis, began the process with the insurance company and finished preparations for a three month sabbatical. I was tired from the 2 prior weeks and looking forward to seeing what awaited me during my time of rest.
And this is the first thing I see.
Not what I was feeling at that particular moment,
But clearly an invitation from God
to enter into His joy during this time of scheduled rest.
Which is what I did.
In fact, Rest was one of the themes that emerged from my time away.
Rest after a long couple of years dealing with the impacts of a virus
that stopped the world for a moment.
Rest from the everyday duties of being a rector at a parish.
Rest from the busy-ness that happens when you are going about the daily routines.
In one of the books I read by Tricia Hersey called Rest is Resistance,
She wrote about something she calls the “grind culture.”
it is the pull of the culture of capitalism that makes us slaves of our work.
It is prominent in the business culture in our country.
It is the drive to work faster, harder, longer, etc.
It is so engrained in the system that we don’t really notice it.
But it is there.
It’s like telling a fish they’re wet.
The Grind Culture is the water we swim in culturally.
And it’s exhausting.
And it is sometimes found in the Church too.
The “Grind Culture” is much more than just an attitude of “hustle,” it is an attitude that feels incomplete without being busy and constantly moving.
I have been working since I was ten and have not stopped. During the summers in-between college semesters, I would work seventy-five hours a week to be able to go back to school in the Fall.
Being raised in a busy-ness culture has its impacts.
I am not saying that hard work isn’t a good thing,
but not allowing ourselves to rest adequately and regularly
can be detrimental to our well-being.
As the weeks went on during sabbatical, I was able to be still and rest;
to listen to my mind and body and recover from a long couple of years.
I have read the Gospels many times and know that Jesus would often go off by Himself to rest, but I never really understood what that meant practically and how this kind of rest and self-care benefit me,
and then by association, benefit the parish.
It was a good lesson to see manifested.
It is what allowed me to be settled even though my return to the parish work was the day before Maundy Thursday.
We find rest in what God provides us.
During sabbatical, it was things like, reading, walking and being still.
And something very unplanned too.
Not being in my home.
Six days before the start of my sabbatical, I had to relocate.
What I didn’t know then was that this would be,
aside from the inconvenience of having to relocate, a blessing to me.
I am someone who is always looking to complete tasks or move forward on some project. I had plans for the Rectory during sabbatical; projects that were going to be completed. Being displaced from the Rectory took that option off the table. I was now staying in a house that was not my own to which I could do no projects. I needed to see my time in a new way.
It was a gift to me during this time.
The other theme that came out of my sabbatical time was community.
Community was, by far, the thing I was most drawn to during sabbatical.
Let me give an illustration.
For every vehicle I have ever owned,
I have become aware of others driving the same vehicle.
For the last 5 and a half years, I have noticed other Subaru WRX drivers and have felt a kinship with them.
It is the strangest thing.
I see them everywhere.
And this has been my experience with other cars that I have owned too.
Community was the “car” I was driving during sabbatical.
I saw it everywhere; in the books I read, in the people I was around and in the lack of being with the good people of Holy Trinity for three months.
Good community has many facets to it.
It isn’t one thing.
It is at its foundation a common-ness,
and I think you have heard me say this a few times before.
From there it involves several things:
Welcoming–Blue Like Jazz is a book by Donald Miller and in it he shares stories of community with those who have struggled to maintain a relationship with the Church. One of the biggest obstacles that comes out of Donald’s stories is the way that churches can be unwelcoming. Being “unwelcoming” can be both intentional and unintentional. Many of us have been to churches that are very much a closed group. You know it when you walk in. It is clear that they aren’t interested in you being present with them. What happens more often is the unintentional unwelcoming of people in churches. Through the expectations we hold, the routine we establish, the transactional nature of some of our relationships and our lack of a clear understanding of the importance of being present for those we don’t know or don’t know well, we can convey a sense of unwelcoming.
Two examples from our own church
(one an accolade and the other an opportunity to be better).
A few years back at an Advent Dinner, someone brought a guest with them. Everyone was excited to be together and to be in the same space and to interact with the people they always interact with. The guest barely got a hello. We were, unintentionally, unwelcoming. It breaks my heart and it know it breaks yours too.
While I was out, you all had the opportunity to hear from and sit under some gifted leaders: Cn Mary Hack, Dr. David, Mike Kerrick and Richard Yale. When I returned from sabbatical, Mike shared with me that his visit here was very positive. He felt welcomed, his wife felt very welcomed, so much so she said that she would love to visit again (which is not something that happens often). In a nutshell, they felt welcomed.
Covenant-In one of his noteworthy books, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer presents some essential elements that should constitute the covenant of any Christian community. In covenant together, Christian community should look a certain way. And we should all move in that direction.
He shared about how Christian community is Spiritual in nature. We move through life in a very physical way, but the community of God’s people are spiritual in nature and it is from there that we must operate. It requires thinking beyond what is right in front of us and choosing to see through the eyes of God.
He quite rightly points out that Christian community is found in our togetherness. This is a physical oneness, but it is also a spiritual and emotional oneness. It is the realization of our connectedness through our collective journey of faith.
He recognizes that Christian community is enhanced by our alone times and quiet practices and serving together. It is in the discipline of self that we are able to contribute to the community.
He states that Christian community is fulfilled through the Eucharist. Much like what I shared this past Sunday morning, the Eucharist is where we see Jesus, where we come to see ourselves and where we come to see others.
Work-Good Christian community requires work. In his book Run with the Horses, Eugene Peterson encourages the reader to seek life at its best. Community can sometimes be an experiment of groupthink. If the group is firmly grounded in the building of healthy community, groupthink will not be much of a problem. But what if it is not rooted in building healthy community? Peterson calls us out of the crowd to seek the ways in which God might call us to new heights in our own journey of faith. It is from here that we might then influence the communities we find ourselves in.
Care-During my time of retreat, I watched how the brothers of the Abbey of New Clairvaux cared for one another, especially the elderly and brothers who had physical ailments. It is the community there at the Abbey that allows them to thrive and be productive in their spiritual, emotional and physical lives.
At the Forma Conference in Alexandria, Virginia, I witnessed the community that those gathered had with one another as they worked together to come up with ways to continue in the formation of people within the Episcopal Church. It was clear to see that the community that they had developed with one another (many in attendance have known one another for years) helped to advance the creative process of formation in the churches that they serve. But beyond that, they cared for one another on a personal level, encouraged one another in their ideas and walked with them in the places where they were having trouble understanding.
Kindness-When we arrived at the place we would stay during our time in Costa Rica, we quickly met Dr. Katarina and her mother. They saw we were new to the country and Coco, and they proceeded to update us on the area. Being Canadian, these two were going to nice us to death. But, more than that, they were going to be a big part of our community while we were there. Dr. Katarina made sure we knew where the grocery stores were, where the bank was, where to find the best fish to eat and where to get our golf cart (the transportation during our time there). And beyond that, we shared life for a few weeks; talking often about the blessings of life and family.
In Coco, where we stayed while in country, there are two groups of people that find themselves there: The North Americans (Canadians and and those from the States) and the “locals.” The “locals” were anyone who was not a tourist in the town we were in: people born there, people relocated there and those who were there for work. The locals that were staying where we stayed during our time in country made sure that everyone was included in what was going on. Whether you were there to take photos at the resorts in other towns or served in one of the many businesses in town, you were included in BBQs and other gatherings. Together they shared life and laughs. Together they displayed an attitude of kindness.
Absence-Probably the most obvious example of community to me during sabbatical was the lack of community I experienced. I have said a few times since returning, but it bears repeating I missed the people of Holy Trinity during my time away (as did Pepsi). I missed working together, serving together, being current in the lives of those we love and sharing about our lives. I missed getting more time with those we lost during that time to death and moving. Community is powerful.
I wanted to share these things with you so that you would be aware of what my time was like away and what I felt God pulling me to. I am looking forward to having further conversations with the Vestry and then the parish to see how the things that were discerned from both the Vestry retreat and the Parish retreat partner with my time of discernment while away. Ultimately, I am looking to see in what ways we can move together to continue to build up our community here at Holy Trinity.