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I’m making a collage involving an image of shed skin, having been captivated by a passage in a book on reptiles that said most “higher land animals” shed their skin, but whereas mammals like us do it so gradually that it’s mostly imperceptible, snakes are unusual in shedding in “one elegantly complete operation.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about continuity and change (that Mary Catherine Bateson chapter, the one I quoted in a somewhat different context on February 5, tugged on some threads that have been in my mind for a long time), and the idea of changing oneself in “one elegantly complete operation” is intriguing. Do we ever do it? So many radical changes feel paradoxically like returning to our real selves, the person we’ve known we were or wanted to be for a long time . . .

Anyway, for this piece I need something that looks like what a person would leave behind if we shed our skin the way a snake does. After a couple of false starts–draw it? use tissue paper?–I realized that the perfect medium was white glue, white glue as it appears when it’s dried on your hands and you’ve peeled it off, as we all did in school. Well, maybe some of you washed it off with warm water. I reveled in peeling it off, and in fact, my friends and I would deliberately spread a little extra on the backs of our hands for the pleasure of doing it some more.

So I spread a 3- by 8-inch swath of glue on the inside of my left arm this morning, waited twenty minutes, and peeled. OUCH. Swath is right. A swath is what it felt like it was taking out of my skin. I couldn’t even take the advice I’d given to the munchkin just the day before when she was fussing about band-aid removal and pull fast!, because I didn’t want it to tear. Ow ow ow.

Joy said, “You’re suffering for your art.” Glad to do it, but if there’s a next time I might sacrifice the texture (which will probably be invisible in the final piece anyway) and just spread it on a piece of plastic.

Practically-pure bliss.

There are a few things I do miss. I miss the cats—I swear I almost signed up with a one-on-one Spanish tutor, even though it’s a very expensive way to learn and I would do just as well or better with a class of other students at this point, so that I’d be able to pet his cat who looks just like my sweet, snuggly Luna. I pale a little when I consider that it will be another 5 months before I get any dim sum. (We had dim sum about five times in our last couple of weeks in California, trying to store it up, but that doesn’t really work.) I miss our house when I think about it, but it will wait for us, unchanging, and I find it comforting that a lovely family is living there and loving it. I do wish I could talk to faraway friends more, but the internet is sure a help there, and a couple of them are planning to visit.

I don’t miss work. Not in the slightest. This was not a foregone conclusion; I love my job, and last fall’s were my happiest months of work in a long time, full of particularly interesting challenges and promising more. And I’m not someone for whom retirement is the point of life. I would go mad with nothing to do but lie on a beach and read. Work, the doing of something that stretches my abilities and is useful to other people, is one of my chief sources of happiness; I ought to speak a language where “work” and “play” are the same word, if there even is one besides Pravic. However, the beauty of sabbatical affords most of the blessings of work without most of the downsides. I’m learning a lot and pushing myself to do difficult and rewarding things, while—these are the tough parts in regular worktime—getting enough sleep, having enough time with my wife and daughter, not fretting about stray critical comments or church politics, not feeling like I have more to do in a week than can possibly fit, putting first things first. All of those things will be hard to maintain once I’m back in the intensity of daily ministry. In particular, I am not good at letting go of the concerns of work to make heart-space for the other parts of my life, though I’m hoping I learn something during this time that will make it easier. It is so, so good to be in a different mode.

What I do miss about church, though, is the people. I love my congregation so much. They are a very smart, funny, devoted group of people, fun to be with, who challenge me (mostly in constructive ways *grin*) to be a better person as well as a better minister. It’s hard to be separated from their lives for this long, knowing that they are going about their daily worries and joys and that I can’t share them. However hard it might be to re-enter the pressure chamber of sermons, meetings, etc. come August, being with them again will be the reward.

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