My Sabbatical is Over—and I Didn’t Even Know I Took One

When I stepped down as a director of the Listening Post in October of 2019, I didn’t know what was next. But I trusted that I was to make space for new leadership, and to do that I would need to distance myself for a while. Since I had helped start that dynamic and evolving organization eleven years prior, I noticed others were reluctant to step forward since I was “founder.” But I was aware of  that syndrome in which the organization dies when the founder does. I didn’t want that. I knew the Listening Post had a life of its own.

            I wondered if this then was the time that I would really “retire.” Little did I know that I was on the cusp of two and half years of what would be my version of the Dark Night of the Soul—the time recognized by all spiritual seekers marked by not knowing and particularly not knowing where God is. 

 I have written of this time in prior blogs: the agonizing slow dying of a best friend, the mental decline and eventual death of my mother due to Covid, the more sudden death of my spiritual teacher, and the discovery that I had breast cancer and the surgery that followed. My last post was just after that time. And of course, I joined with the rest of the world in the shadow of the pandemic, the isolation, the loss, the uncertainty and the chaos. A coup attempt on our government. The killing of George Floyd, more mass shootings. We all have other griefs to add.

            Yet the Dark Night is also called “luminous.” That alluring and illuminating light of a full moon that can lead us into the unknown. For myself, it illuminated a way, a time, and the support in those two and half years to write my book. And then spend an equal amount of time editing it and learning about the publishing process. It has recently been published and starts a journey of its own.

            In all these experiences, the over-arching gift of this Dark Night was this: I learned how to receive. I glimpsed in that luminous light, that I had a considerable pride and self-identification in being the Giver. While giving is a beautiful gift too, in my case, it was not balanced with the art of receiving. It was humbling, in the best meaning of that word, to see that by being  the Giver, I could feel in control, even manipulate situations to get approval and of course, under that, love. 

            I have learned to find that love by receiving it in the past two and half years. I let myself feel my needs and to ask for what I needed. Uncomfortable, strange and wary, I’ve discovered that even when God seemed hidden, the Love did not. It was ever-present, abundant, free and attuned. In my case, I learned the reverse of that Bible verse, “It is better to give than to receive.” I found some balance in the luminous darkness and I had the courage to receive calls, cards, books, food, listening ears, hugs, help getting up, supporting pillows, medical advice, pastoral care, offers to assist with designing and publishing the book and the presence of friends and family—without needing to even the score. 

            My energy is nearly back now. My heart has healed much from the losses. And by healing, I mean it has become more vulnerable and in this, found strength, not weakness. I see God again not so much in everything, but everything held in God–held, held, held.  

            There is talk of the Listening Post beginning to listen in person this summer. It has been on hold during the pandemic as the world watched and waited for a time when it was safe again to gather. When it does, I sense I will listen again, but with a new heart, ready to help others, but also in larger part, to receive what those on the margins have to give to me. Or as Fr. Gregg Boyle says, “We don’t so much reach out to others, as we are reached.” My sabbatical time has done its work.

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