Invitation to Party with God
A week from today I will reenter the world of vocational work. I spent the last week in Kansas with my classmates from our graduate program, listening, learning, worshiping, praying, talking, sometimes weeping and sometimes laughing. It was a gift in a myriad of ways and I am grateful for it. And then, instead of flying home, I flew to my hometown in Bucks County, PA, where the 40th birthday gathering I’ve been planning for months for my dearest friend came together beautifully. It was a magical evening, everything I envisioned and planned and hoped it would be. It felt like a whirlwind to pull it together and it was, but I am grateful for a few other women who helped ease the immediate transition from school to celebration and made it complete.
In each space, multiple people asked how my sabbatical has been going and I said the same thing: I am resisting the urge to quantify or define how it has gone, but there have been a few elements I will treasure for always. The principle one being a return to play, delight, joy, and desire. I don’t know that I need or want to share more about that publicly at this point, but as I stood looking at the room set up for the birthday gathering to begin, it felt, in some ways, like the culmination of this hidden time. So much work done in quiet ways, so much planning and purposeful dreaming, so many elements prayed over, and so much help to do well. My fingerprints were all over the gathering, but none of it could have happened without the gift of time from God.
This is how this time away from the watching world and even my own watching self has been. It has been quiet, both vocationally and in my mind and heart. It has been purposeful and a dream. It has been bathed in prayer. None of it could have happened without the investment of others, both in my life as a whole and in their willingness to give the gift of distance during this time. And it has been a magical delight, warm and joyous, full and playful.
Much of my spiritual work is to differentiate myself from who I am in reference to others. But for that work to be done, I must sometimes mute the voices of others in my life, to return to hearing the voice of God more clearly and even my own voice too. I will exit this time feeling more sure of my identity in him than when I entered it. One thing I told nearly every person who asked about my sabbatical, was that if possible, everyone should take one. And the second thing I told most of them was to not be surprised if all their best laid plans get upended in more beautiful ways than they can imagine.
I had great intentions for hours of reading theology and poetry, deep times with the Lord in lectio divina and Bible study, plenty of quiet and reflection, journaling and listening. Instead I spent hours learning about camper-van build-outs, cutting and gluing bits of paper into an art journal, taking virtual tours of museums around the world, compiling folders on my desktop of beautiful art, reorganizing closets, cabinets, and corners. I listened to the same worship album on repeat for weeks on end and watched BBC mysteries. I (mostly) stopped apologizing for delays in responses on email and text messages. I spent hours and hours putting together invitations, favors, menus, plans, and gifts for the birthday gathering. Every single thing I touched over the past three and a half months, everything I did, has felt like a gift to me straight from God, a long exhale of joy, and not a bit of it was what I expected of this time away.
Saturday night, in a last minute moment of total silence and aloneness, as I surveyed the room for the gathering that was about to begin, I felt like the gift I was giving to my friend was in actuality a gift from God to me. I don’t mean to make it about me, truly, it was all about her, but it felt like God was saying to me: this love you have for her is like the love I have for you. And as you are hoping she is able to receive all of this evening in fullness, that is how I want you to receive all the beauty and joy and delight I have for you.
I have often talked about Norman Wirzba’s words about hospitality being about “liberating others into their lives,” and recently wrote about how I was seeing God’s own hospitality for me like that. That is what this sabbatical has been for me, a liberation into beauty, joy, delight, and play. He set a table before me and has fed me full with his goodness. And it has been good. Very good.