Thank you to this amazing community called NFC for the gift of a four-month sabbatical. Thank you to the pastoral team for covering things, carrying extra weight, and being willing to create time and space for me to be away with my family for these months. What a gift this time has been and even continues to be. It is hard to put into words how grateful I am to you all for allowing me to be away, so I will keep it simple by saying, “Thank you!”
I started my sabbatical last April with a month at the Trappist Abbey, near Lafayette, living with the monks in that community. This rhythm of prayer, hard work, deep rest, and soaking in the Psalms was transformative (we read and prayed the whole book of Psalms two full times). This community was very gracious and helped me settle in as a Quaker dropped into this different world of worship and spiritual practice. On the first Sunday I felt a bit anxious about Mass as I joined the other brothers up front, still trying to get acclimated with when to bow, use the sign of the cross, sing, pray out loud, or sit silently. Although I knew it was worship and that I wasn’t performing, I still felt a bit unsure. I prayed a simple prayer, “Lord, I offer you myself, help me to rest in you….” God has a beautiful sense of humor. Without missing a beat, God sent Brother Brian (who just moved to this Abbey from Ireland a few years ago) to help ease my soul. When he came and sat down he leaned over and whispered, “Steve, just so you know, we start Sunday Mass with a little liturgical dance, and you get to go first.” The twinkle in his eye and the joy in his voice (mixed with his deep Irish accent) brought a moment of quiet laughter to us both and a settling of my heart. “God, thank you for knowing me and meeting me right now.” That was one of the many experiences when God was active in real and practical ways.
That month of quiet, reflection, and prayer set a tone for my whole sabbatical and, I have a sense, for the rest of my life. The time away was infused with a growing desire to be aware of God and grateful to God:
… with every breath
… in every moment
… in every experience
… for every person
… in every day.
Now can I live in a way that expresses gratitude at all times as I notice God’s presence and love?
As a family we celebrated the many moments, experiences, and people (especially one another) as we traveled for five weeks through Scotland, England, France, and Switzerland. I imagine I will tell a bit more about these experiences over the next months—being in the beauty of the Scottish countryside, seeing Iona, visiting St. Andrews, wandering through ancient castles, staying in the former home of Margaret Fell-Fox and George Fox and seeing the ground from which Quakers flourished, being in London and then the beauty of the French landscape, sitting in the very church building from the 1700s in which my great (6 times) grandfather preached and taught, gazing on stunning Swiss mountains, breathing the fresh mountain air. As we traveled we celebrated God and practiced gratefulness. What a gift!
While it was good to be away and have a change of pace, it is also really good to be back—to fly in over the beauty of the Cascade Mountains, to reconnect with the NFC community I love, to consider how to continue to nurture a heart of gratitude among each of you. I come back with a full heart and look forward to what God will continue to do with each breath, moment, experience, person, and day. God is good and I am thankful for the deep love and life we each get to soak in right where we are planted.