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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sabbatical Year

A few weeks ago I was in Mokama for the silver and golden jubilee celebrations of several of the SCNs. Incidentally, Mokama is “where it all began” for the SCNs in India, so it seemed like a pretty important place to visit if I wanted to learn about the SCNs’ work here and I am glad I got to go. But that’s not what I’m here to write about…


During the homily of the jubilee mass, the priest reflected on the reading from Leviticus 25 about sabbatical and jubilee years. The reading says that farmers should rest the land every 7th year and that the aftergrowth from the harvest should be equally shared between landowner, slaves, hired help, and tenants. The reading goes on to say that God will make sure the fields yield enough in the sixth year to provide for several years, making that 7th year rest possible. The priest related that to life today. The sabbatical year, for the farmer then or for you and I now, is not about doing nothing for a year. Rather it is a time to rest from normal activity and do something different, with a special emphasis on acknowledging the abundant blessings God has granted, on knowing that all is possible through God and all is given to us by God; in other words, the year should be about gratitude.


Certainly I’ve heard people talking about taking sabbaticals, but I never really thought the term had any relevance in my life. College professors took sabbaticals. However, when I heard the priest speaking, I thought, “Ah, so that’s what I’m doing!” I taught at the same school for the last six years. My last year was incredibly, sometimes overwhelmingly, busy. However, like the field in its sixth year, my sixth year working there produced such an abundant yield that I am certain I will still be enjoying the fruits after this year is over. Friendships with colleagues were strengthened. The depth of student reflection went beyond that of previous years and we even put a collection of their writing together in a book. I was able to save enough money for this year away (I think). One goal I’d had since I began at the school, to lead an international service trip, finally happened. Those are just a few examples of the plentiful harvest from my sixth year of teaching. Of course, my personal life also held many blessings.


This year, my seventh, my sabbatical, I am living from the harvest. Every joy I experience here, like wearing my sari for the first time, is richer because I share it with friends at home. Likewise, the difficult moments, like when I am frustrated by my inability to communicate what I need to say, are easier, because of the love and support I know I have.


As I live off the fruits of last year’s work, I am resting from the particular work of teaching high school boys, and trying to share the aftergrowth and to use my time to do something different. I am teaching, but I am teaching English instead of Spanish; first, sixth, and seventh grades instead of high school; and in my afternoons, girls instead of boys. I’ve also had the privilege of conducting two teacher trainings, something I’ve never done before. I’m trying to learn Hindi and will try to learn Arabic when I am in Palestine. I am living in community after many years of living by myself. Let me also add something that may shock those who know my (messy) personal habits well: for the first time in my life, I am making my bed every day as soon as I get up. Yes, I am living differently! :) In fact, I can’t stand to leave my room with it unmade! (Yes, Mom, this is true.) My time here is more relaxed than at home, but I think I am using it, rather than wasting it.


Every night I participate in community prayer. A friend who recently made her final profession as a Benedictine sister wrote not long ago that she is convinced that if everyone took quiet reflection/prayer time daily in their lives, our world would be very different. I would have to agree with her. For me community prayer is a time when frustrations melt away as our focus always includes recognizing all the good things in our lives, so I am ever-aware of God’s goodness in my life. And, wow, what goodness there is! I certainly have a new appreciation for water and electricity. As I’ve said before, I have amazing support from friends and family, who, while physically far, are very much with me on this journey. I have made new friends as I travel and work. Each day I receive the smiles on the faces of students as they greet me. These days I see the golden splendor of the rice paddies ready for harvest. I enjoy going out to our terrace to see the amazing star-filled night sky with no street lights and buildings to hide it. I am overcome with joy by the way my afternoon girls respectfully handle any prop I bring for class, including a necklace, pair of earrings, and my cell phone. In other circumstance I might worry that these things would disappear or get broken, but I have never worried with the girls. There is the sweet cat at the house who never used to purr and now does all the time. I eat delicious food every day, and am having lots of fun trying new foods. Sadly, the season for my new favorite fruit, custard apples, is nearly over, though there were a few at the breakfast table this morning! I could go on…


And so, thus far, I think I am living my sabbatical year in the spirit it is meant to be lived, resting but active, mindful of the goodness around me. I hope I will continue to live it well during my next weeks in India, when I move on to Palestine in January, and anywhere else I go during my time away from home. As I write this, I am ever more aware of how fortunate I am, as there are many people, perhaps you included, who can only dream of such a year. Of course, I am surrounded by people who probably can neither take such a year or even dream of it… But maybe my way is only one of many ways to live a sabbatical year. Perhaps one can live differently and express gratitude in other ways, without leaving the country or leaving a job…I hope you have that good fortune. In the meantime, thank you for graciously sharing in mine.

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