Thursday, 26 May 2016

On Sabbatical (and finding it hard to relax)

As I write, I'm four days in to my first ever sabbatical. I never had a 'gap year' or anything similar, so this is the first time in all my adult life when I've not been working full time at something. It feels weird!

The closest I suppose I've come to anything similar is my 3 maternity leaves, but as anyone who has had babies knows, that is really not a break in any meaningful sense. Though to be fair to those of you who think maternity leave really is a break, when I was pregnant with my first I did think it was going to be a nice break.  I even bought a piano, thinking that on maternity leave I would of course have time to learn to play it. (Cue hollow laughter). As it turned out, for the first few weeks I didn't even have time to eat lunch. And I was back at college for the second year of my theology training 2 months after he was born, as it was either that or take a whole year out which we just couldn't afford at that time (no maternity pay when you are training for ordination).

So this is the first time I've had anything like an actual sabbath period in my working life. I keep feeling that I should be doing something. In fact, I haven't yet broken myself of the habit of making a daily To Do list - garden, quilt, have a swim - and feeling guilty when I don't manage everything on the list.

I had a quiet day at Shepherd's Dene retreat house yesterday, and found that even then, I was stressing about not achieving sufficient 'spiritual quiet day' success! Do you find that a problem when you go on retreat?

The message I came away with was simply to  relax and let be. As anyone who knows me in real life will testify, this is definitely the spiritual gift that I am most in need of! So though I started the sabbatical with a list of things I wanted to achieve, I am really hoping that I can relax, and for perhaps the first time in my life, find out who I am before God when I am not achieving stuff. I know the theory of 'being not doing', but putting it into practice in real life - in MY real life -  feels like a real leap into the unknown.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016


I was struck this year by the theme in both the Acts and Gospel readings for Pentecost, of thinking big.

In the Pentecost story, when Peter tries to explain what is going on to the gathering crowd, he tells them:
"this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams' "(Acts 2:16-17)

When I get frustrated by the church - which happens all too frequently! - it is usually a frustration with us thinking too small. We don't tend to dare to dream dreams, prophesy, imagine a different future, try to live up to our visions. Our thinking on church growth can all too easily be limited to 'we'd like it all to stay the same but with a few more people on the coffee rota please'.

And when we do try to dream and envision a different future, I seem to hear a sense that this is for the young ones to do - that we oldies have had our day and it is someone else's turn now. Yet the Pentecost story does not let old folk off the hook! Both young and old, slave and free (in verse 18), men and women, girls and boys are expected to participate in this dreaming, prophesying, visioning.

Its not surprising that we don't tend to dare to dream dreams. All too often in life we are told not to be so stupid, so naive, when we dare to imagine how things could be different. We can probably all remember being a child saying 'that's not fair!', and being told firmly by adults to get used to it, life isn't fair. And it is all too common for someone who dares to dream of a different future to be firmly slapped down by those around them. (Terry Pratchett describes this brilliantly as crab-bucket syndrome in 'Unseen Academicals' - the crabs can't climb out of the bucket because other crabs keep pulling them back down). We hear the voices in our heads, internalised from long repetition, telling us not to be naive, not to waste our time day-dreaming, that we won't make any difference.

Maybe part of receiving the kingdom of God as a little child is daring to get back to that childlike expectation that life SHOULD be fair, that things SHOULD be different? Daring to have impractical dreams once again?

In the Gospel reading from John, Jesus is quoted as saying:
"the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it." (John 14:12-14)

Ask for ANYTHING? Dare we?

In church this morning we thought about this and then spent some time in silence, in which people were invited to admit to God what they really, really wanted. What in their wildest dreams would happen. First for ourselves, and then for our church.

What would be a dream come true for you? Why not risk praying for that?

What would be a dream come true for our church? For the world? Why not dare to pray for that?