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an Immeasurable Gift

12/20/2016 10:26:07 AM


Patience... Is the last hope any individual can have during sabbatical. When the expected doesn't happen... Patience, expect the unexpected. When you are true to something that you have done; the results will come.”

Stephen Manoharan

The gift of a sabbatical is immeasurable. It is hard to qualify because sabbaticals are so rare for most of us, therefore; they seem mythical opportunities to “do” the things we have always wanted, but have not had the time. People's eyes brighten and they lean in with a vicarious excitement when asking what am I doing on sabbatical. I wonder if I stand looking in their direction if I can see their fantasies projected in the air.

Balancing truthfulness and satisfying my sense of what people want to hear, I will often lead with my week long interfaith pilgrimage to Guatemala or my chant leader training program in Santa Fe. And while both of those are true, they are not the truth of truth. For others, I will entertain the idea of being political in an unfettered way during this time of a new presidency and for others I will give a list of synagogue projects I hope to achieve.  Again, I deal with facts, but the heart of it remains hidden.

When people are so focused on the ways a sabbatical creates space to “do” more, how does one articulate the subterranean ways that a sabbatical might allow shifts in being? How do I say, “Actually, I want to do enough that I merit the gift of this time and nothing more.” I hope to give myself space to allow an unfolding of what it's like to put the down the weighty and seductive role of congregational rabbi and rediscover what's underneath the role so I may inhabit it differently when I return.

Being stripped back down to the mundaneness of who I am is such an important process.  The opportunity to ask, “Who am I?” without titles or roles.  It takes a fallow period to shake off the calcifications and the habits so the wilderness of my soul can emerge. What will grow on its own? Can I just be patient with myself, my limitations?  Will I find time to celebrate the small success of remembering a favorite song or allowing the healing of wounds that I had long overlooked? 

In the backdrop of this sabbatical is the grief of my father's dying.  We are both men of doing and doing...and doing.  But now, I watch the pain of his slowing down and descending into his own personal winter.  He was my model of healthy aging and now I am reminded, instead, of the uncertainty of everything, even lives well lived.  The curling internal spiral turns and turns in on itself until we are living an experience only we know. It's like witnessing a plant reverse itself into a seed. Being with him brings me happiness in this time because when the doing falls away there is getting to spend time with the sweet and raw parts of who he is.

No one’s imagination lights up at a sabbatical of slow and micro or how it feels to move up in Death’s line.  My own mortality is the winter field of this sabbatical and I know underneath are seeds of gratitude that will be watered by grief and growth even as the once verdant field appears beige and barren. 

Rather than measure what I do on sabbatical, my hope is that I end up lost enough to have to discover some dormant aspect of myself or that I become aware of the faintest internal flutterings towards the unknown.  Or that my encounters upend my plans in unexpected ways.  It's a mystery waiting me.

A sabbatical is an immeasurable gift.

Mon, April 23 2018 8 Iyyar 5778