I think perhaps I've entered a new phase of my sabbatical. I think the first part of my sabbatical was about deprogramming from my normal routine, not showing up at the church everyday. The first part was about being in worship and not leading worship (which I will continue to do in this next phase). Phase one was about not obsessively checking my phone for who was calling from church who might need me, it was about detaching from the daily details of church life in my congregation.
So, I think I entered phase two as I stood in the first worship service of the 2009 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indianapolis and wept. I wept as we sang because I love to sing about my faith with others and singing with 6,000 was pretty overwhelming in a positive way. I cried because I realize there has been a dryness in my relationship with God lately. I've felt like I've been in a bit of a spiritual desert where I've been going through the motions (or sometimes not even going through the motions) but not allowing God to touch my soul deeply. Well God came flooding back into my heart and soul big time at GA. I was able to experience God's presence in worship and be reminded about what I love about my church (big church- general church). I love that we respect all persons, that we value diversity- ethnic, cultural, theological, sexual orientation, gender, etc. and that all persons have a place at the table. Youth and children were also well valued and well represented at the assembly. I got to have deep conversations with friends I haven't seen in a long time. I got to catch up on other Disciple's institutions I love- like my college, Drury University and my seminary, Disciple's Divinity House at Vanderbilt University.
Phase two is about being in love with God and spending deep time in prayer. Phase two is about making time to be with friends and family deeply (as was phase one), and seeing that as God's blessing and presence with me. Phase two is about more prayer, more reading, more writing, more crying when I'm touched by God's powerful countenance in my life.
I am savoring a book. You've heard me talk about it before but I have been reading Barbara Brown Taylor's book "An Altar in the World" for months. I didn't want to breeze through it, I wanted to savor it and that I have been doing. The chapter I am reading today is about "The practice of Living with Purpose." Living with purpose could be the job you do, or it could be found within the job you do, or maybe it could even be about something outside work that is your vocation and passion like coaching a soccer team.
I truly believe for me, being a minister is how I live with purpose. I feel like I am fulfilling my purpose when I am creating a sermon (with God's help) and preaching it. My purpose is fulfilled when I sit at someone's beside in the hospital. The light of my purpose shines brightly at camp when I am leading kids in bible study, or when I am talking with a teenager about something that matters deeply in her life. So while I've been on sabbatical its been a little bit harder to see my purpose in action. I know my purpose is present when I talk with friends who have needed me to listen, when I spend time nurturing my own marriage, or when I spend time in prayer or reading a great book. My purpose is to be in relationship with God and to help others along their journey with God by sharing my life with them.
It feels good to have a purpose and I know that one can be in ministry and not feel that same sense of purpose. I overheard a conversation at the Assembly where a chaplain was talking about her true purpose being in hospital chaplaincy. She was telling someone else that for her chaplain work gave her life purpose because it was serving others. She went on to say that she couldn't find her purpose in the church because as she experienced it, the church was self-serving and did not reach beyond itself enough.
I didn't agree with her on the church being self-serving- maybe when the church is scared, or at a loss for direction the church looses its on purpose and becomes self serving. However, a church with vision, direction and purpose is not all about itself. A church who is living its own vocation is about serving others and making God's purposes known in the world. I will hear her words as a challenge when I go back to my congregation.
Welcome phase two. I am not afraid to cry, not afraid to let the power of God overwhelm me and choke me up. I will not run from deep encounters with the holy, in whatever form they arise. I embrace phase two.