My first experience of sabbatical was losing track of the days of the week. This in itself is not surprising, for I had heard others describe the same experience and knew to expect it. What did surprise me was the speed with which I experienced it – within five days of starting sabbatical – and the severity with which hit – I spent a full 10 minutes in the car while driving trying to sort out what day it was.
In a way, it was to be expected. The daily and weekly pattern in my life and come to a sudden end. I get up, drink coffee, talk with Matt, drive to East Haddam; it’s Tuesday. I get up, drink coffee, drive to Meriden; it’s Wednesday. I’m up again and back in East Haddam; it must be Thursday. What I had not realized was that this had become something more much more than a pattern in my life, it had become the rhythm of my life. With that rhythm gone, a part of me felt unmoored.
I suspect I am not alone in this experience. I wonder what the rhythms are in your life that anchor you and hold you fast? Perhaps it’s your work schedule, like me. Perhaps it is the rhythm of getting children to school and the routine of taxiing them to afterschool activities. Perhaps it is the schedule of your own social and personal commitments: exercise classes, civic groups, church committee meetings, even caring for a loved one. Or perhaps it’s something else entirely.
All of these are good and wonderful things. The trouble is that unexamined, they so quickly and easily become the rhythm of our lives, and that which sets our rhythm defines us in the subtle and powerful way. Its like the beat of a song, easy to overlook in the flourish of melody and lyric, but very much there. Whether a fast beat, a slow beat, or syncopated beat, it sets the parameters of the music that can be played to it and even though boundaries for the words that can be set to it. The beat of the song defines what is and is not possible for the song to be; what is and is not possible for the song to say.
But we are not stuck with the rhythm we find our lives playing to. We can choose our own rhythm.
This week I am with the brothers from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist in Newburyport and they are a reminder of adifferent rhythm, one easily lost in the world today. It is one not defined by work or activities, but by prayer. Now the sun is rising, it must be time for Morning Prayer. Now it is noon day, it must be time for Eucharist. Now the shadows grow long, it must be time for Evening Prayer. Now my eyelids grow heavy and my body feels weary, it must be time for Compline.
This is not to say that we should all become monastics – though I would encourage everyone to take the opportunity to experience retreat in a monastic community. It is a reminder that we have a choice in our life’s rhythm, and that rhythm sets our priorities and establishes the types of stories we can tell with our lives.
The start of my sabbatical helped me to discover the rhythm of my life. Now that I know what it is, it is not the one I think I would choose for myself. It does not give priority to the things that are important to me and it does not foster the relationships that I want to flourish.
I do not yet know what new rhythm I want to shape my life, and I am excited to explore and try on new things this summer.