Sabbatical 12: "Flattened" by Insights

Reflecting back on the first three months of sabbatical, I see it now like a surgical procedure in three phases: The initial phase was our first month in Asia, which was pre-op anesthesia in preparation for surgery. My two weeks in Osoyoos was like open heart surgery where God did a deep work as described in previous blogs. The third phase was after my return from Osoyoos where I had 28 days of just being home in Vancouver. This period was like post-op recovery!

Those 28 days were amazing days. They started quietly enough, but they didn’t stay that way. The sun shone every day. The early summer mornings were intoxicatingly beautiful. I usually got up between 5 and 6am and then went out on our back deck every morning for devotional time and enjoyed listening to the chickadees and other west coast songbirds. Sometimes the birds were joined by the chanting of my Buddhist neighbour as she added some rhythm with her exercise machine! As the sun greeted the morning, I would journal, soak in the Scriptures, then go for a prayer walk, or run to Trout Lake and back – about 4 or 5 kms.   Spiritually, I was in post-op recovery, but physically, I felt wonderful. All the insomnia I suffered from pre-sabbatical was gone. My body and mind felt at rest, and I slept at night like a baby. 

In addition to Scripture, I read voraciously, continuing to read Julian of Norwich and would often get “flattened” by her surprising and startling insights. For example, when she was contemplating the suffering of Christ on the Cross, she wrote: “The joy and bliss that Jesus had in winning our salvation far surpassed all the suffering that he suffered, and he wants us to experience his joy and delight. He so desires our joy, endless bliss, and honor, how could he ever withhold from us anything that is pleasing to him that we ask for?” BAM! I was surprised and humbled by this insight. Another concept she introduced was the “courtesy of God” towards us. I had never heard that term used with regards to God’s heart for us. It disarmed me and opened me up to new levels of intimacy. He is courteous which means he is kind, gentle and respectful of us and will never violate us. Wow!

I also spent many hours reading books on spirituality such as Heart of the World (Urs von Balthazzar), The Naked Now, (Richard Rohr), and more novels on Korea. I read another book of a North Korean escapee, an upper class citizen who was imprisoned with his family, called the Aquariums of Pyongyang. Plus, I read The Year of Impossible Goodbyes, a story written for middle-school aged children, describing what life was like under Japanese colonization. I also read more Chaim Potek novels. I began to resume vocational reading related to being a pastor and church, with my first book called “The New Parish,” a beautiful book written by three pastors who live in the Pacific Northwest, just south of the border. This book was about their journey to integrate spirituality with ecclesiology. (Ecclesiology is just a fancy word for “how we do church.”) Yum! This is where I came across the remarkable story of the lobster which I’ve referred to often since I’ve come back from my sabbatical.

I took my afternoons, just to be home, to enjoy where I live, my neighbourhood. When Kathleen came home from tutoring, we had lots of wonderful walks and talks, meeting neighbours, connecting with our Chinese friends at Templeton Pool. We also enjoying Serge, our wonderful and delightful waiter, at our weekly breakfast date at the Roundel Cafe.  Few waiters have ever given us so much joy, and he is such a gift to us.

I embarked on a very special project. At the Spirit Ridge First Nations Cultural Centre, I found some beautiful cards with First Nations art by a Vancouver artist, in which I began to write thank you notes to the parents of our homestay students who had been so generous to us in Korea. Saying thank you was easy. Practicing my Korean (Hangul) was not so easy! Nevertheless, the delighted response I received back from them after they received made the effort more than worth it! Here is a sample of a card, as well as my Korean handwriting on one envelope to Jini's family, You can only imagine what the text looked like. I wrote an interlinear translation in English in case I got it badly wrong - a slight chance that might happen! 

Finally, I began house and yard cleaning projects. Methodically I worked my way through the house, cleaning windows, walls, Venetian blinds, finding places where dust had gathered that I didn’t know even existed! As I worked my way through this four week project, all kinds of thoughts went through my mind: “I’m going to have to do this all over again next year.” “No one will ever notice that I did this, but they will notice it if I don’t do it!” and so on. You have lots of time to think when you’re cleaning. Then I thought of the phrase from Ecclesiastes – “Meaningless! All is meaningless!” However, it was truly therapeutic to feel that after I had started something, I actually got something done. This experience can be quite elusive when you’re a pastor, and brought fresh meaning to the ordinary.