When you read this article, I will already be on sabbatical. However, on the day I am writing this, the calendar tells me I have 24 more days before I leave. My head is swimming with details, both of the things to be done at church and at home and those final travel details.
I have been living with the truth of what I have been told time and time again, that is, that I will still be me on sabbatical. Nothing magical happens that first day that transforms me into a better version of myself, able to be “more.” So, I know this: You will be with me. Just as I carry you all in my heart and mind throughout my days, I will carry you during this time away. As I rest those first few weeks and get my hands into some clay and yarn, ideas and prayers and stories will come to me because that is usually what happens. When I am traveling abroad, gorgeous views and art and ancient cities will inspire me in the work that I do, and I will be eager to share it with you. As I explore my home state and enjoy time with family and at the beach, stories of my family and work in this place along the Mississippi will be remembered and shared. That is what it means to be community, to be a part of a people and, for me, what it means to be pastor. We are connected, all of us.
In his book The Book of Forgiving, Desmond Tutu says, “In South Africa, Ubuntu is our way of making sense of the world. The word literally means ‘humanity.’ It is the philosophy and belief that a person is only a person through other people. In other words, we are human only in relation to other humans. Our humanity is bound up in one another and any tear in the fabric of connection between us must be repaired for us all to be made whole. This interconnectedness is the very root of who we are.” Who I am and who you are is defined by the relationships we have, even when we are separated. And, as I type this, I know this sounds somehow wrong because we are taught to be individuals, to stand out, to be able to stand on our own two feet and not really need anyone else. That, however, is not the way humanity works when it thrives. Instead, we are connected to each other and need one another to live our fullest life. My relationship with you has shaped who I am as a person and as a pastor and that will not change while I am away.
My current favorite song, the song that would be my “walk on” music if I ever needed any, is Rise Up by Andra Day. I love this song because it is a powerful song about the resilience of the human spirit. “And I’ll rise up. I’ll rise like the day. I’ll rise up. I’ll rise unafraid. I’ll rise up and I’ll do it a thousand times again. And I’ll rise up, high like the waves. I’ll rise up, in spite of the ache. I’ll rise up and I’ll do it a thousand times again.” Those words convey beauty enough, but that isn’t the whole of the song. Most of the song is about how we Rise Up together, “You’re broken down and tired of living life on a merry-go-round. And you can’t find the fighter, but I see it in you so we gonna walk it out and move mountains…When the silence isn’t quiet and it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe and I know you feel like dying, but I promise we’ll take the world to its feet and move mountains.” In those moments of deepest despair, it is the relationships in our lives that help us out, those people who are willing to walk with us that remind us that we can walk and we can move mountains. The best part of this song though is the bridge:
All we need all we need is hope
And for that we have each other
And for that we have each other
And we will rise
We will rise
Friends, we rise and fall together, bound to one another by our shared humanity and that means something, especially for those of us who profess to follow Jesus. We are a people of hope, and hope is the strongest when we share it together. We give each other hope and encouragement. That is what I have experienced with you in the gifting of this sabbatical: Encouragement and hope. I am often overwhelmed by the extravagance of this time away, of the time and energy put into the grant by so many people that made all of this possible, by the grace and joy with which it was given and the support of our amazing staff.
The verse that defines how I live my life, “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your mind and with all your strength… And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31), is about our shared humanity lived out in the love of God. Together, we embark on this journey of sabbatical, exploring our shared stories of God’s work in our lives and what it means that we are community as we travel different roads for a while. I look forward to when I return and we share stories together. You will be in my prayers, and I covet your prayers that this time away will be all it needs to be.