How I’m Finding My Way

Reflections on Four Weeks of a Sabbatical

It’s been 30 days. Or more significantly four Sundays, since we clergy have that day of the week fixed firmly in our minds, our weeks spinning around it as we plan for sermons and liturgies and whatnot. I’ve traveled to New Mexico and Vancouver and New Hampshire and Vermont in that time, and I’ve still got a good three months out ahead of me.

Phil LaBelle, 2017.

I’ve been exploring wilderness spirituality in my reading and thinking. I’ve been journaling. I’ve been sweating more than I have in my entire life as I train. A few pounds have (reluctantly) come off. (What is it with middle aged bodies and their desire to hold on to food indiscretions from the past? Seriously, the Doritos weren’t that good.) Some muscle has been added. I’m told the black circles under my eyes have lessoned. A clergy friend I saw commented on my countenance; my face looked uplifted, she said.

I heard it would take about a month before it really felt like I was on sabbatical. Years of the weekly rhythm take some time to stop. Concerns about the parish can take a while to let go of. Add to that my family schedule—it’s the end of the school year and there have been concerts and gym shows and baseball games and other activities—so with the end for the kids able to counted on one hand, the bulk of the true gift of this time still lies before me.

For so long this entire sabbatical felt like a dream, and perhaps one that might never materialize. That somehow it was too good to be true. And yet it is true!

Have I experienced the wilderness? Of course. I’m exploring my own inner workings, the things from my past I’ve held on to for far too long. I’ve begun to encounter God in all the mystery that God is, and I’m being called into something much deeper. I’ve been reading Soul Wilderness: A Desert Spirituality by Kerry Walters this week, and it explores this call to let go and trust. Walters states that many of us live with images of God that suit our own needs but that the true encounter with God can only come when we unclench our fists. When we recognize that God cannot be formed in our image. That God is unpredictable and wild and mysterious and encountered in the wilderness. I am reminded of CS Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles when describing Aslan: “Well, he’s not a tame lion.” And so I’m opening myself up to the rawness of God.

In less than a week we head out to explore ten National Parks and camp and be together as a family on a massive road trip. I needed the month to unwind before then, and I am eager to explore the beauty of the natural world with these ones I love the most. I cannot wait to see what emerges next in my own life through the Spirit.

Thanks for your continued interest and prayers for me in this journey.