'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
The lovely Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts, was written by Joseph Brackett in the mid-19th century. A slightly different version is in our 1982 Hymnal. Part of its loveliness, it seems to me, is that you don't need a Ph.D. to understand its meaning. The invitation to simplicity and freedom is plain and, well, simple. Which is not the same as easy. Twenty-first-century life is anything but simple! Wendell Berry uses words like haste, speed, and noise to describe our always frenetic and often chaotic lifestyle. However, God, who knows us and loves us anyway, has provided a remedy. It is called Sabbath. God claimed a day of rest on the seventh day of creation and from the beginning commended it to us. A sabbatical is an entire season of rest.
By season of rest I don't mean taking a break from a too-busy routine, nor do I mean going on an extended vacation. For me, sabbatical was a season to at least try to embody my particular busyness differently. For three months I resolved to bring an attitude of attentiveness to the responsibilities, projects, and people who give my life meaning and purpose. Could I catch glimpses of freedom from the pressure to cram more activity into already full days? Could I loosen my grip on the striving for perfection? Could I exert less effort and recover more joy? These were, for me, soul questions.
Calvary gave me the simple gift of time to explore these questions, to find my way, as the song says, to where I ought to be. I began my time away with a six-day silent retreat in West Virginia. I visited a dear friend, now in his nineties, who lives in D.C. I kept weekly play dates with my 2-year old grandson. My husband and I took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Ireland. I read a few novels. And I spent my days at home continuing the work of launching a nonprofit social enterprise.
I cannot claim a definitive yes to any of the questions I started with. Those questions (your soul will ask different questions of you) will be lifelong companions. But I am so very grateful for the community that blessed my departure and then welcomed me home with warmth and gladness. My life is rich with many valleys of love and delight; Calvary is one of them. Thank you for this simple and generous gift. My heart is full of love for you.