The Challenge of Being Unscheduled

The third day of my Sabbatical, I lost the watch that my grandparents gave me on June 2, 1982, for my High School graduation. I thought I might have left it in a locker at the Y the day before. No one had turned it in at the desk at the Y, so I kept looking. I found it later in the day in my dresser, exactly where I had left it. I also lost my debit card. Later, I found it tucked into my checkbook, again exactly where I had left it. At the end of the day, I lost part of my iPad charger. After much searching, I found it under the passenger seat in my car. I had put it on the seat in the car – it took the better part of an hour to find exactly where it had migrated.

The next day, I sort of lost one of my sons. I was supposed to pick up my two older sons from school. I picked up one of them, but forgot that I was supposed to pick up the other. He waited patiently until my wife noticed he was missing and went back to school to get him, 45 minutes later. Later that night, I temporarily lost my cellphone.

I am not normally a person who loses quite so many things. Fortunately, I recovered everything I lost, but something is clearly going on with my mind and I know what it is. It’s the Sabbatical.

Normally, my time is relatively scheduled. Even when I have unscheduled time, I have a defined list of things that I need to do to prepare for classes and meetings or finish bulletin or Mlive articles. Suddenly, I am temporarily free from my synagogue responsibilities and in order for Sabbatical time to work properly, I need to let myself drift a bit. The lack of order in my life is expressing itself by a lack of order in my mind. I know from past experience that in order to let myself explore new things in a completely new way (part of the purpose of Sabbatical time), I need to give myself the unstructured time. Eventually, I will start on some reading and writing projects and a direction will present itself, and my time, although still my own, will fall into a less chaotic pattern.

Meanwhile, I am focusing on self care – exercising and strength training at the Y – and taking care of some long overdue projects at home. I am also trying harder to keep my things – and my children – organized.

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The Beginning of a Sabbatical

Beginning a Sabbatical is like rebooting a computer and running software to clean out all of the caches and shut down all of the programs that automatically launch and run in the background.

The first weekend and most of the first week is dedicated to paying attention to all of the habitual behaviors I engage in. I like to work. I like to be busy. When I am not working, I like to be thinking of working, planning what I need to do next, sometimes making lists of things to do. I look forward to getting back to the office on Monday morning. Shutting down the mental processes that drive me takes time, but without it, I won’t be able to explore a different set of mental processes.

To some extent, and to no great surprise, the practice of Shabbat prepares one for the larger practice of Sabbatical. On Shabbat, I shut down a portion of my weekday life. Computer, tablet, phone; no internet, no email, no electronic news. Actually, given that there is no newspaper delivery on Saturday, I really disconnect myself from a portion of the world around me. So far, the world has handled itself for better or for worse without my help … and had I been paying more attention, the world would still have handled itself for better or for worse!

Shabbat teaches me that I am not that important in the grand scheme of things; and a Sabbatical teaches me a similar lesson, that my synagogue can get along without me for a few months. Granted, I don’t have to prepare the world for my one-day-a-week absence, but I have spent most of the past two weeks and a significant part of the past month preparing the synagogue for my absence. However, this was my third Sabbatical, and we’ve gotten pretty good at knowing what needs to be done, and who needs to do it.

My job this weekend and this week is not to let myself get caught up in synagogue thoughts. I have to be confident that as problems arise, the president, the cantor, the chair of the ritual committee, along with the wisdom of a cadre of past presidents and board members and committee chairs can handle them.

Divre Harav – Words from the Rabbi – November, 2014

Beginning this month, I will be on Sabbatical for three months. It is a common practice of rabbis and other clergy to be given a periodic Sabbatical from their regular duties for reflection, for rekindling the spirit and the sense of calling by God, for reconnecting more deeply with the tradition (Scripture, theology, liturgy), and for deepening one’s own spiritual life. My last Sabbatical was five years ago. While on Sabbatical, I will not be available for my normal Rabbinic duties. I will not be coming into the office, attending meetings, or scheduling appointments. I will not be taking phone calls or responding to email for routine questions. I will not be teaching, leading study groups, leading services, or giving Divre Torah. The office will refer calls or email either to the president or to the appropriate committee.

What will I be doing? Clergy organizations suggest that a Sabbatical should not be heavily structured. The idea is to have free time for unexpected projects and learning. I will be spending a great deal of time time reading and studying. I will be out of town for part of the time, but most of the time will be spent in Grand Rapids. I do have two structured projects to focus on during my Sabbatical time. The first is something I have done several times in the past (my third time – I do it every time I have a Sabbatical). I am serving as a Graduate Assistant teacher of a 12 week Dale Carnegie course, giving example talks, leading small group exercises and discussions, and helping the instructors keep organized. In searching for a second project, I considered that my first Sabbatical focused on visiting other small congregations, and my second focused on studying the art of preaching. It occurred to me that I do a fair amount of writing for the synagogue, and I have had several projects on the back burner (including a booklet that would be a guide to funeral and mourning customs). I decided to join a weekly writing group, in which people bring a piece of whatever they are working on, share it with the group, and receive feedback.

During my Sabbatical, a number of people and committees will be picking up some of my responsibilities.  Of course, services will be led by Stuart Rapaport, but the Religious Life committee will be coordinating service gabbai’im, to help announce pages and lead selected readings. I have  invited a number of people to share Divre Torah – as of the beginning of October, November 29, December 13 and 27, and all of January are open. Please call the office if you would like to do one.

The one exception I will make in a normal Sabbatical practice will involve officiating at funerals, if I am in town. However,  the initial phone call regarding a funeral should go the office. After office hours (7:00 am – 10:00 am and 3:30 pm – 10:00 pm), please call Stuart Rapaport. After the basic funeral arrangements (include date and time) have been set, I will be contacted. If I am available, I will contact the family to speak about the funeral service.  Otherwise, Stuart will handle the funeral service.

This will be my fourth three month Sabbatical (one every five years). I understand that the many people in the congregation really stretch themselves to cover for me while I’m away, and I am immensely grateful for this opportunity. Todah Rabbah!