Many have asked if I had a good sabbatical. The short answer is yes, thank you. Even in that short expression there is much to elaborate on! I was told before I went that a sabbatical would be disruptive to me personally. He wasn’t wrong. I think the best way of describing my time away is to say that I have shed (at least some of) my illusions. That is not to say that I have become completely disillusioned with everything, though that is certainly true of some things. Fr Richard Rohr, Franciscan Priest writes in his daily meditations: “Normally, the way God pushes us is by disillusioning us with the present mode. Until the present falls apart, we will never look for something more. We will never discover what it is that really sustains us.” None of us really like this experience. Part of this is about letting go, becoming humble, the death of the ego. It is the process described by St Paul in the letter to the Philippians. Stepping out of the place of safety into the unknown. In Matthew 21:23-32 the Pharisees are trying to challenge Jesus and claim authority from their ordered world. Notice how Jesus responds. Firstly he doesn’t respond from the ego. He recognises what is going on and he offers his questioners the opportunity to be humble, the opportunity to say that they were wrong, the opportunity for them to step out of order into disorder, so that he might enable them to rebuild. He is offering them the chance to let go of their illusion of control which in all probability may have led to them being held in greater esteem by the people and to reorder their lives. Of course, that doesn’t happen. They see Jesus as a greater threat to their authority. They do not want to allow the disruption, the disillusionment of how things are. Yet, it is necessary. Jesus would say, “Unless the grain of wheat dies, it remains just a grain of wheat” (John 12:24). The image above is of my study wall, it is my reminder to be humble. For it reminds me that I am completely dependent on so many others, that who I am and all that I do is built upon the shoulders of others. It is an eclectic gathering of people’s thoughts notes, well wishes, quotes, sketches and the occasional moan! I’ve recently put it all back up, it has been sat in a folder for the past few years waiting for the right moment. As I put each card on the wall, I read each note, or letter and remembered either who had given it to me or where it had come from.
Amongst the cards is a photograph I took of an exhibition by the welsh sculpture John Meirion Morris, whose obituary was recently in the news. Although an atheist, John Meirion said the exhibition in the Anglican Chaplaincy was the most appropriate spiritual venue for his work, better than any gallery. I had the privilege of working there at the time. It produced an incredible spiritual experience. I took the photograph of the exhibition in order to sell a few cards as mementos for those visiting. John was so taken with it, that he asked if I could create for him a ‘Christmas’ card using that image. He, a sculpture and artist with an eye for detail was incredibly humble in his appreciation of the image and I, humbled by his reaction. We don’t always react with such generosity. Often our reactions are to humiliate the other rather than to be humble. It can take a lifetime to allow ourselves to have as Paul writes the same mind as Christ to allow ourselves to let go and to let God.