Slivers of Sabbath

I have just finished the first week of my sabbatical, which means that I have 51 more weeks left of this marvellous opportunity. This seems like a passage of time that will last forever, but I know from past experiences that this period flies by. So, I am working at being quite intentional about using it well.

I have had a number of people ask me about a sabbatical, and what it means for me in my work situation. I explain that for six years of work, one half year at full salary, or one full year at 80 % of salary is offered professors who make application. The concept of the sabbatical is biblically grounded in the notion of a day’s rest for seven days of work (Exodus 20:8-11). The word sabbatical itself comes from the Hebrew word for seven, or seventh and from there became associated with rest. But to reference the theme of rest alone is not quite adequate when it comes to describing the sabbath I am on.

The board of the institution where I work anticipates that my sabbath will be a time wherein I do some research to develop skills in service of teaching and to advance knowledge in my area of expertise. A sabbatical is not for laying on the beach for 52 weeks. I found some funding from an outside source that will support my research in considering how schools of theology might respond to the 60th call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which calls upon theological colleges – among other things – to prepare ministers of religion and practioners of spiritual care of the “need to respect Indigenous spirituality in its own right.” This is an important commendation that is more complicated than first appears, and so demands a careful accounting of what this might mean in the context of any given school, and the theology that shapes its mission. I will spend a good bit of my sabbatical looking at this, but that is not all I will do. Over the last six years, I have accrued a good bit of nearly completed papers etc. that warrant some editing time and such. Sabbatical will partly be a time for some catch-up.

But I also need to remind myself that the ancient practice of doing less for the sake of more is a spiritual discipline. Recharging the batteries is a necessary practice in becoming whom I need to be for students, my colleagues, our institution and my family. I need to practice rest. Of course, doing nothing is counter-cultural. We are all defined by our jobs, assessed for our productivity, and valued for our contributions. This, unfortunately, is too often parlayed into a way of being that is thoroughly dismissive of the need to take a break, to slow down, and to do nothing for the sake of those times that demand my all. This sabbatical needs to be a time for me to lean into the discipline of pausing so that I might encounter the holy anew.

My life, like most – I suspect – is shaped by chunks of time divided up into fractures of “busy” bordered by ten minutes here, and five minutes there: waiting for the program to load, or the cars to move, or the meeting to start. I hope that this sabbatical will train me to embrace these fractures of time as a gift for the intentional practice of sabbath: to use the traffic jam to think of the blessing my life has accrued; to use unexpected down time from the computer to look out the window and monitor the cardinal; to use the waiting time before a meeting to notice my colleagues around the meeting table, to give thanks to God for them, and to find a way back into that space of attending to the divine. It seems, then, that a sabbatical isn’t only about re-grouping but more about re-shaping. I do not know, then, where this will lead, but this is part of the challenge and joy of the next 51 weeks, and hopefully beyond.

8 thoughts on “Slivers of Sabbath

  1. shoreacres says:

    Reading your last paragraph, I’m reminded of the reshaping that’s taken place in my own life over the past twenty-eight years. Working according to the weather doesn’t simply demand flexibility, it imposes it. Learning to lean into interstices between sunshine and rain, cold wind and warmth, in order to get work done, takes far more discipline than learning to adhere to a fixed schedule.

    Beyond that, there is the issue of time. I’m given to that vain wish — “If only I had more time!” But we all, every one of us, have all the time there is. The only question is, how shall we use it?

    One thing is sure. Time is fleeting. It struck me that there’s a nearly perfect sabbatical song. It’s one I play from time to time, when the need to refocus is obvious.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Yes, that is a very fine song for a sabbatical! Perhaps I’ll make it my theme song, so thanks very much. In a way, I guess time is bit like the grain in a piece of wood: you work against it to your peril, but with it you can do something enriching.

  2. LC Mueller says:

    What a gift. I wonder if I had been offered such a pause, if I would have stayed teaching longer. It has taken me these past two years to learn how to live ‘un-busy’ and not feel guilty for lack of production. I still have a ways to go!

    • agjorgenson says:

      Yes, indeed. It is a gift, I do not take it for granted. In fact, I experience a little bit of anxiety, wanting to make sure I use the time well – as you may have gathered from the posting. But once I ease into it, and firm up some plans, a kind of rhythm ensues. As for your query, I suspect that yes, you would have stayed longer. Many work places would do well to make place for a sabbatical, or equivalent that fits each kind of work, I think.

  3. Mary Irene says:

    wishing you a blessed time of rest, reflection and research

  4. Rebekah says:

    What a wonderful opportunity, and yes, a true gift! Enjoy.

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