There's a major transition coming up for me. In just a little more than a month my term as Prior will be completed, and I am stepping down and will be taking a period of sabbatical. I wanted to let my readers know that this change was coming rather than spring it at the last moment. So what I am going to do this morning is post a copy of an article that I wrote about it for our Newsletter, Mundi Medicina, which will be appearing very shortly.
Sabbath, Sabbatical and Us – and Me
Few things are as deeply ingrained in the Judeo-Christian tradition as the keeping of a Sabbath – a regular day which is given to rest, to socializing (especially with family) and to worship. Reading of some parts of the Hebrew Scriptures can give the impression that there is really only one Commandment – you are to keep the Sabbath; and this means one simple thing. No work.
The provision of a regular day on which the routine is entirely different, when the focus is not on the usual business of life, is based on a deep intuition. We get into a routine, which becomes a habit, and then becomes a rut. It is necessary to interrupt the routine periodically and regularly so that we can think differently, so that we can pray differently, so that we can be different. Over a period of time, Sabbath keeping introduces us to deeper levels of experience. The Hebrew Scriptures present the Sabbath as the meeting place between God and human beings, and the keeping of the Sabbath as the sharing in the very being of God. It’s not a small thing.
We have a Sabbath here at Holy Cross: for us it’s Monday, since our Guesthouse ministry means that we work on weekends. We do our best to make a real Sabbath possible. The usual schedule is suspended and our business offices are closed. There’s no pressure to get things done, except, of course the pressure that comes from within. We hope that the space we create for ourselves on Mondays will relax us, refresh us – and more than anything, sanctify us. Above all, Mondays are about expanding our time, so that we have time for quiet, and for each other, and most of all for God.
Sabbaths gave rise to a different kind of rhythm, that of the Sabbatical. Now largely restricted to the academic community and to the clergy, sabbaticals offer – at least potentially – an expanded experience of Sabbath, one in which a person is able to relax, expand, see things differently and get the creative energies recreated.
And so we come to my plans. In June my term as Prior of Holy Cross Monastery will come to an end, and being 73 years old, it seemed the right time to draw this part of my monastic vocation to a close. These years of being at the helm of the monastery have been full of wonderful blessings, and I have a great sense of joy and thankfulness for this time. I will always be grateful for this opportunity, and for the marvelous, creative and most unusual community that we have here!
What now? The first thing is a sabbatical.
Sabbaticals have been traditional in Holy Cross, especially for people who have been in leadership positions for a long time. Our Superiors have, ever since I have known, taken a long time away after their terms expire. I’m going to step into this tradition and have an extended sabbatical over the next year.
The opening time is going to be a good long retreat. I will leave the monastery directly after Chapter in mid-June, and during the summer I’ll be house-sitting for our friend Elizabeth Broyles, at her place in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Elizabeth was for some time a Resident here at Holy Cross, and she is going to be at the monastery in South Africa for 3 months this summer, and while she’s gone, I’ll keep her house occupied and her cat tended. I’m intending for this part of my time to be largely one of solitude, though I’m not going to be rigid about it. I’ll have a bit of social life, and I’m planning to spend some time with the Community of the Holy Spirit in Brewster, just to have some community life. But mostly I’m going to have quiet, and space, and time to luxuriate in the Scriptures and some other reading, and lots of time for prayer and meditation. I’m also going to roam the Catskills and sit by mountain lakes and learn again what morning and noon and night feel like.
Then in the late Fall I will set out for Kansas City, stopping to visit with some friends and family along the way. When I arrive in “KC” I’ll be occupying a lower floor “apartment” in the home of my friends Mark and Clare Romain. They have a beautiful home in the far western suburbs of the city and from my hillside room I’ll have a view of deep woods and a stream, and have access to hiking trails right outside the door. I’ll build on the foundation that I hope to establish in the summer, and continue to give much time to prayer, to lectio and to study. I’m also going to set to work to recover some of my long-lost cooking skills, and I’ll do some craft work – I hope to work with beads, making rosaries, prayer ropes and such. And of course I plan to have good time with friends I haven’t been able to be with in many years. I’m hoping that it will be a deep time, and also a leisurely time. I will return to West Park in the late Spring of 2012. I hope for the prayers of many of you while I’m engaging in this adventure, and I know there are going to be lots of stories to tell both during and after this time.
At the present, I do not know what the future of this blog will be. I'm not sure that the reminiscences of a solitary will have the same appeal as a blog about what it's like to live in a monastery. I think I'm just going to have to feel it for a while and see what I want to do about writing. I do know that I will not be able to do it on Sunday mornings, because on that day I'll be with the Sisters in Brewster most weeks. So we'll just have to see.
The years of offering a perspective on our life to all of you have been a real joy, and I've loved seeing the blog develop and grow. I also look forward to what happens next, and hope for your interest, and for your prayers.