The desert is the threshold to the meeting ground of God and man. It is the scene of the exodus. You do not settle there, you pass through. One then ventures on to these tracks because one is driven by the Spirit towards the Promised Land. But it is only promised to those who are able to chew sand for forty years without doubting their invitation to the feast in the end. — Alessandro Pronzato

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The collect (or prayer) for this past Sunday—the Sixth Sunday of Easter:

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: our into our hearts such love towards you, that we, love you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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As I heard that prayer read out loud—Christine, our sabbatical supply priest, presided at the service so she read it—I was overcome by the expression both of love and of God’s preparation of good things that surpass our understanding. As I embark on this sabbatical, I am so overwhelmed by that love I’ve felt both by God and the people of St. Mark’s and our wider community. This grand adventure has many good things already, so I cannot begin to fathom how it may surpass my understanding!

At the end of the service on Sunday, Christine called me up and had the assembled body lay hands on me. Those in the front row and in the choir, directly and those who couldn’t reach me themselves put their hand on the person in front of them, stretching all the way back in that packed church.  My eyes welled up when she began praying for me, words I do not recall, but I know they were beautiful.

A circle of love surrounded me.

I will carry that feeling with me in the days ahead, and cannot wait to experience and share the many good things of this summer sabbatical.

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Any new beginning in one’s life involves a dissatisfaction with the past and a call to something new. It can be as unsettling as exciting. The Desert Christians learned that wilderness had a way of abruptly putting them in their place. It awakened them to a mystery that had no regard for their self-importance, yet welcomed them with an astounding love. Their entry into a life shaped by the desert required a stout readiness to commit, a weathering of disappointment, and a birth of irresistible desire.”

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“Part of the grandeur of wilderness is that it cares so little about the things that absorb us so much. We find glorious, disarming indifference in its grand vistas and hidden niches.  It shares its gifts with a prodigal extravagance, even as it ignores our imagined self importance. … Accepting what is—for what it is—is the place to start.” — From Backpacking with the Saints, Belden Lane

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I have a confession to make: I didn’t get it all done.

This sabbatical I’m about to embark on has been in the planning for about a couple of years, and since last Fall I’ve been earnestly making lists of things that needed to be accomplished before I left, both personal and professional.  Updates that I wanted to conclude, tasks to work through, projects to complete.  I had fitness goals to achieve, cluttered spaces to be organized, and home improvement undertakings to finish.  Of course there were the regular aspects of my job, the joy of meeting some of you to grab a cup of coffee over at Red Barn.  The pastoral concerns that have emerged in the past couple of months, communicating the exciting things happening here at St. Mark’s, searching for a youth director.  Add to that the personal things: sports and music activities for the kids, supporting Melissa in her doctoral program, dinners to cook.

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The picture I had in my mind grew to fantastical levels: I would be the male equivalent of the Proverbs 31 woman.  Going to bed late at night, and rising before the sun, I would do more things than humanly possible all before I set out on this adventure of a lifetime.  (And a friendly reminder, that the woman described in Proverbs 31 is actually Wisdom personified, but I digress.)  The image I held up for myself was utter perfection. Continue reading How the Light Gets In

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If we reflect a moment, we will see that to fly into the desert in order to be extraordinary is only to the world with you as an implicit standard of comparison. The result would be nothing but self-contemplation, and self-comparison with the negative standard of the world one had abandoned. Some of the monks of the Desert did this, as a matter of fact: and the only fruit of their trouble was that they went out of their heads.

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The simple men who lived their lives out to a good old age among the rocks and sands only did so because they had come into the desert to be themselves, their ordinary selves, and to forget the world that divided them from themselves. There can be no other valid reason for seeking solitude or leave the world. And thus to leave the world is, in fact, to help save it in saving oneself.

—Thomas Merton from The Wisdom of the Desert

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It happened.

Frankly, it was bound to happen. Last weekend while doing a training hike, I twisted my ankle.

[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]Cairn along the way. (c) Phil LaBelle, 2017[/featured-image]

I had been making good time, getting my legs under me on a longish trail up Mt. Monadnock in Southern New Hampshire.  A couple of days before it had rained and rained and rained.  The trail still glistened in spots, especially on the steeper inclines when it clearly had been the designated run off route for the water.

I took my time there, of course.  I’m no fool.

But on the trail just beyond it, about two miles in on a nine mile hike, my right foot slid on a rock as I descended in a small area.  At the same time, my left foot got jammed, hyperextending my toes back toward the front of my shin, and putting a significant amount of pressure on my ankle.  I yelped.

Continue reading Setbacks

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“These captives [taken by those of other cultures long ago] lay out in a stark and dramatic way what goes on in every life: the transitions whereby you cease to be who you were. Seldom is it dramatic, but nevertheless, something of the journey between the near and the far goes on in every life. Sometimes an old photograph, an old friend, an old letter will remind you that you are not who you once were, for the person who dwelt among them, valued this, chose that, wrote thus, no longer exists. Without noticing it you have traversed a great distance; the strange has become familiar and the familiar if not strange at least awkward or uncomfortable, an outgrown garment. And some people travel far more than others. ”

— From A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

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So I’m heading out on my sabbatical in a few months, and one of the things I’m trying to figure out is how to blog while offline. I want to remember my time and share it with interested folks.  A photo, quote or post frequently will be wonderful.

Testing out the setup.

But I don’t want to lug around a laptop—especially since I’ll be off the grid many times throughout the trip. So I’m trying my iPad and a wireless keyboard. I’ve downloaded the app Blogo and giving it a spin.

So far so good. I’ve got it connected to my blog. I can add photos. Schedule the post and get it set to go.

If you follow my blog, please allow me the chance to try a bunch of things out over the next couple of months as I hone my process. Thanks for your patience!

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In a few short months I’ll begin a four month sabbatical. We clergy are very blessed to have the opportunity to step back from our daily ministry to get some perspective, study and refreshment.
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St. Mark’s and I were lucky enough to be awarded a Lilly Foundation Clergy Renewal grant. With this award, I’ll be focusing on Wilderness Spirituality, doing a deep study on the wilderness times in life and the call of wild places to bring us healing—like the desert mothers and fathers. I’ll also be hiking a great deal both by myself and with my family in New Mexico, New Hampshire, Vermont, Vancouver, the Rockies, the Boundary Water Canoe Area and Kilimanjaro.

But I won’t be on Facebook. I’m taking a sabbatical from email, FB, and the like. I’ll be uploading photos to Instagram and posting “micro-posts” (short reflections, quotations from readings and pictures or videos) as often as I can depending on connectivity. I will have a script post to my Rambling Priest FB page (something I’m beginning to explore now), so if you want to get the updates, follow me there. In the meantime, I’ll be reflecting on my preparations.

Onward and upward!

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