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For a sabbatical blog, this one has been pretty thin in the “what I’ve been up to” category.  So here, for the record, is what I’ve been doing vis-a-vis sabbatical goals.

Drawing etc. I report on fairly often.  I was tempted by a ceramics class–actually, less a class than access to materials, studio space and kiln time, which were what I wanted–but the difficulty of getting the work home, and the delight I’ve taken in just working on 2D stuff, convinced me to skip it.  Right now I’m working on collages, which Munchkin likes so much that I can easily do them while she’s home as well as while she’s in school (I give her paper and cut-out people and she makes her own c’lage, as she calls it, beside me).  Two weeks ago I went to the local weekly, no-instruction, life-drawing session because drawing from a model was my favorite part of drawing class and I really miss it.  I’ve gone twice now and hope to go every Tuesday that remains, which is only three more (not including the last week, when Joy will have returned to SF and evening excursions without the munchkin will be tough).  I’ve already looked up similar sessions in SF and bookmarked the schedule so I can continue there.

A habit of art: A goal for my sabbatical, besides “make art,” was to get in a habit of making art that I’ll continue when I’m back in the busy life of full-time work for me, full-time work for Joy, full-time school for Munchkin, commuting . . . I got excellent advice from my dear colleague Chris, who is recently retired and still working hard at projects imposed by no one but himself,  so he knows what he’s talking about.  He recommended that starting during the sabbatical, I have a set time every week that is inviolable art time, and when sabbatical ends and all the other art time falls away, I will just continue, Mondays 9-11 a.m., without fail.  Because of my Spanish class (see below) I haven’t started a weekly habit ’til this week, but I’ll try to keep it up for this last month.

No more morning internet: I realized that art time opens up if I break another habit.  I tend to wake up and turn on the computer.  Usually I have some excuse, like checking for a reply to an e-mail or tracking what I ate for breakfast (either of which, of course, could easily wait), and end up frittering away time on Facebook and Wikipedia and other idle pursuits.   So I have two computer-related resolutions:  (1)   on Mondays, which are my day off and my sacred time home alone, have only a very specific, limited online time, if that (maybe 1/2 hour during lunch), and (2) not to turn on the computer at all on work days until I go into work.  Morning tends to be an energetic and productive time for me, since I wake up before anyone else in the family, and I could do art then, or, if the Muse is still asleep, at least scrub the toilet instead of meandering in the internet wasteland.   I’m trying to establish the  new habit before leaving San Miguel, and doing about 50/50 on it.  Um, today I’ve been on the computer all morning without even touching my almost-done collage.  As soon as I finish this blog post, though, it’ s art time.  😉

Spanish: I came here with the intention not to study much Spanish.  I thought intensive classes were the only way to go and if I did those, I wouldn’t have any art time.  But I do want to learn Spanish–I started classes at community college two years ago because I want us both be able to speak to the munchkin in two languages, while she’s young and can learn two easily–and the opportunities of being in Mexico proved irresistible, especially after we found an excellent Spanish school that offers one-month classes, 3 hours a day.  That sounded reasonably compatible with my art goals.  I took Level 3 in April (3 hours plus an hour’s conversation) and was so thrilled by how much I learned that I decided to do Level 4 too, 3 hours only, in June ( May was our time for travel–a week in Mexico City, a few days in Michoacan).  I could have done Level 5 in my remaining month, but even at only three hours a day, it does definitely eat up the only totally free art time I have.  Enough.  I did very well and got a good foundation in place, and I have ways to continue when I’m home.  One thing I should do is blog in Spanish sometimes, so stay tuned / be warned!

Technically, my sabbatical ended June 10.  The rest of my time is my annual vacation and study leave, which look pretty much the same as sabbatical.  I have some study leave goals that I kept separate from sabbatical, so I’m pursuing them now:  reading Theodore Parker in preparation for a sermon in August, the 200th anniversary of his birth; perusing some small group ministry topics in preparation for our new groups to be launched this fall (if congregational plans didn’t change in my absence); reading a couple of books on leadership and preaching, if the books will arrive.  I’m even guest-preaching at a new interdenominational church (ten minute sermon–gotta love these Christians, whose communion service and many readings leave little time for ministerial musings), and, sad to report, giving support to a new friend by participating in the memorial service for a member of the UU Fellowship, Carol Veal, rest her soul.

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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.

The quote from which I take this blog’s title is from As You Like It, and I usually edit it to read like this:

And this our life . . .
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

The speaker is an exiled duke, and because he is wandering the forest instead of presiding over his dukedom, he actually says:

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, etc.

I usually take out those words because I’m very much established in public haunt.  But I soon will be exempt, thanks to the generous and wise practice of granting Unitarian Universalist ministers a sabbatical, one month for each year of full-time service to the congregation.  My first sabbatical begins a week from today, and for several months I will be free to find sermons in stones without actually jotting them down to turn into Sunday sermons, in that devilish way of ministers.  I will be devoting my sabbatical time to making art.

I’m not going to commit to blogging during this time.  This may be a great art journal, but it’s also public, and many of my ideas may need time just to be my ideas, without having to turn into anything interesting to anyone else.  And I will keep comments shut off for the sabbatical period, so that I can tell the members of my congregation about this blog without our continuing to chat all through this time that is supposed to be Away.  They are very interesting people and it would be irresistible.

I have other blogs for keeping in touch with friends and for informing a network of my daughter’s fans what she’s up to.  This space is for theological, spiritual, philosophical, and artistic musings, and as I was musing this morning I knew it was time to wake up the blog and post my first post.

I was thinking that when I start drawing, next week, I want to draw leaves that are eaten away to a skeleton.

Vein skeleton of a leaf

And that got me thinking about the beauty in decay.  Leaves are beautiful that way.  So are cliffs eroded so that you can see the striation of the rock.  And human faces?  Sure.  The very word “decay” implies that the peak, even the normal, state is in the past and that this new state is inferior.  But is that true of the leaf?  Is it less beautiful this way than when it had all its skin?

Is it true of us, that our best time is when we are at our peak of health and strength?  Some elements of our selves grow, not only while other elements decay, but because they decay.  Certainly many of my strengths come directly from loss and the wearing-away of things that used to be essential to me.  I think a series of pieces on this might be one of the projects of the next few months.

The image came to my mind, and only then the idea.  And that, in a nutshell, is what I treasure about the activity my daughter calls “arting.”  What other revelations will my “sabbatical of art” bring?  I’m breathless with wondering.  The only way to find out is to get arting.

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