I am nearing the close of my June sabbatical in this beautiful space in the East Bay of San Francisco that has become a spiritual homing beacon that draws me back, time after time. As those who know me might anticipate, I’m feeling reflective as I approach the transition home. I know that what I want to say far exceeds a social media post, so I decided to write down some thoughts to share with those who have been holding me in love and prayer during my sabbatical journey.
The first time that I ever stepped foot on the campus of CDSP for a campus visit, I was greeted by a beautiful, full antlered deer strolling across the street of the Berkeley Hills, blissfully undaunted by people and buildings, just sauntering like any of the rest of us pedestrians making our way home. There was something about that moment: time stood still, my anxiety and exhaustion melted away and I was simply present. It was a gift, and it still is one. I have learned so much about theology and ministry in the seven (can it really be?) years since that first visit. More importantly, perhaps, I’ve learned to be present to my life, to my call, and to God.
I was walking home from the post office today after mailing home some of my books. While I was taking in the incredible flowers, succulents and fruit trees (loquats!), I suddenly realized I was looking directly at a young doe, making her way across the Berkeley street. In that moment, it all came full circle in my mind: a visitor, a student, a graduate, an alumni and now having taught an amazing class to round out this visiting professorship. In all of the learning, the studying, the relationships, the spiritual formation: what I have been doing at the heart of it all is learning to be present. It’s taken seven years and this solid month of sabbatical time for me to realize the incredible and beautiful simplicity of that. This life is a gift that keeps opening.
While I have been here, I haven’t been apart from a hurting world. I’ve stayed present with those who were crying and shed tears of my own as we collectively grieved over multiple mass shootings as well as personal tragedies in our lives. We navigated cases of COVID-19 in our gathered community, weathered the storms of policies and rulings that cut to the core of people’s inner lives and public witness, held public liturgies of lament in solidarity with our siblings at St. Stephen’s in Vestavia Hills and for those who suddenly felt their privacy and agency ripped away with a supreme court ruling. In our off hours, we heard the brazen truth-telling of congressional hearings as we crammed in all of the daily work relentlessly required during a summer intensive (for my students, reading and writing; for me, prepping and grading). And through it all, we prayed and built relationships. We took in new knowledge and gained immense wisdom. We learned to stop and to be present, with God and with each other.
I deepened in my relationships beyond seminary as well. I was able to be consistently present with the community at St. Gregory of Nyssa across weekly services, and even to wear the best liturgical garments anywhere (see prior post) and speak from my heart at the Spirit’s beckoning as I delivered a homily in worship with the dancing saints. I felt myself forming in and with this community of people, awakening to the gifts of hybrid worship that allow us to be present across time zones. A few people said to me, “you really get us” and I would say back: you all really get me, too. It’s profound to have a spiritual home away-from-home. It’s truly a gift for a priest, as my clergy friends are well aware. I promise to join you in hybrid worship whenever I can from the East Coast, and will look for my very own “button” with joy during my next visit, as I’m certain there will be.
I also walked the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral and paid my respects to those whose memories I have laid to rest in the AIDS Interfaith Chapel over the years; may light perpetual shine upon you. I sailed across the Bay, bought incredible local produce at farmer’s markets, spent way too long staring at all the good things at Berkeley Bowl, and this time added to my East Bay experience with a drive to Richmond CA to spend my birthday with Rosie the Riveter. I pilgrimaged to see Jane Addams in stained glass, met Donaldina Cameron via icon and made a quick stop past Cameron House that bears her name and continues her mission. I have had picnics on park benches and hiked to see sunrises over the hills and sunsets over the Bay and honestly can say, the awe never wears off.
This final sabbatical week has been a self-designed writing retreat, which is something I have intended to do for at least five years now. No time like the present! I’ve made use of every beautiful day to write outdoors, and on the cloudy ones I’ve nested in my space with the company of fresh flowers and my trusty basil plant which has flavored my meals and brightened my kitchen. I’ve found opportunity to nurture my soul every day, and what I have accomplished has been so much more than my workaholic ways generally lead to (amazing!). I’m taking that lesson back with me. My prayer beads and books of poetry have been well-beloved friends, and my sleep has been restful, especially on the cool nights where I crack my windows and burrow under a blanket, which never happens back home in the south during the summer. I’ve nurtured my spirit daily as a priority and while doing so I have prepped and taught a brand new class, led liturgy, preached, and produced a fairly solid draft of a book proposal; earlier today I would have aptly used Anne Lamott’s description of an SFD (“shitty first draft”) for what I have produced, but having read it over tonight, I’m pleasantly surprised. I am excited about writing again, and hopefully getting someone to publish it. Mostly, I’m happy about the first part and know the second part will come as it will. It all starts with being present.
When I return home, there will be a chance to rejoin my family who have been at all the things of their lives, too. It takes time to reconnect, so I will make space for that before running off to all the things that will pull me in. Next week, there will be a retreat to lead (oh, I’ve been preparing for that, too). There will be work to re-engage, people to catch up with, discernment about next steps in my life of ministry, and continued engagement with what has been set in motion during this visiting professorship. My relationship with CDSP continues, and I’m grateful to remain connected. Life moves on from this time of protected growth into full bloom. I hope to stand tall and bloom large, like my friends the agapanthus that proliferate with beauty all around campus. I’m coming to this next chapter of the journey with more strength, having been nurtured at my roots…not to mention the tender blessings of wind, water and sun.
I close with gratitude for this time and hope for whatever comes next. And of course, a few photos which will keep my memories alive and continually renew my spirit, until the next time.
Snapshots from sabbatical