From the Associate Rector
It’s a simple icebreaker question I’ve heard in used new groups and on retreats, “what’s the best gift you’ve ever received?” Whenever it comes around again, I will be ready with a new answer: sabbatical.
It didn’t happen by accident. It doesn’t always happen for people in my position. But here’s what Phil had to say about it in that gorgeous journal that Avery Martin made by hand, and in which many of you wrote, and which I carried all across the country. He wrote, “One of the things I was most excited for when we called you to All Souls was for this sabbatical. … because of what might be possible while you rest and reflect.” Those words hit me hard. The gift, the forward-thinking, the way these words were yoked to possibility. He was right. And I’m keenly aware that most great gifts don’t come out of nowhere, they are not born out of ease or excess. I knew that the gift of my going away meant the simultaneous sacrifice of my coworkers, the extra work of volunteers, and the simple financial gift of the parish as a whole. None of it came easily. It was not a given, and yet, here it was, this gift, offered.
I have always been a believer in Sabbath. It seems like an excellent, holy, ideal practice. And I’ve never practiced it well, consistently, or all that deeply. I could rattle off excuses — something about juggling little kids and work, or living on-site, or the impossible ubiquity of the internet, but it’s nonsense. In actuality, Sabbath is just a demanding practice. It asks a lot of us. It offers even more.
I was determined to dive into my eleven weeks of sabbatical this summer as fully as I could, trying to conceive of it as one massive season of Sabbath. Late in the afternoon after the Parish Picnic, I signed out of my work email and Facebook, and took them both off my phone. (It’s funny how our thumbs can betray the best of intentions, mindlessly clicking right past our newly chosen disciplines.) We had made plans to leave Berkeley for much of that time.
My sabbatical started by spending time walking, very, very slowly, around the neighborhood. I had plans to immerse myself in writing immediately, but instead, those first days, I slept, and inched my way around the block. Walking to pick my daughter Alice up from her elementary school, I moved so slowly that a friend didn’t recognize me at first. More rest was necessary than I had even realized. Slowly, over the course of the summer, I began to emerge into a new way of living. Here are few of the things I noticed along the way.
Above all, it is remarkably freeing to focus on very little.
For most of my sabbatical, I tried to whittle down my attention to just the most important things. Disconnecting from most of regular life, I gave my energy and attention to my family, to my writing, and to a couple of beloved friends in each state we visited. We decided not to attempt to see everyone or do everything in each place we went — even in places where we had lived for many years, where we rarely visit, even delightful as they all are. Naps were more important. Reading long chapter books to Alice took precedence. We couldn’t do it all, I realized. I wanted to do just these three things well — family, writing, friends — and I was so relieved to settle into that openness.
My primary hope for the summer was to write, and write I did. Jesse, my husband, gave me the mornings most days to write. We would share breakfast and then he would take off to adventure with the kids, leaving me in silence, in whatever state we happened to be, to write. It was its own a kind of wilderness to plod along, slowly scratching away at these stories I wanted to commit to the page. With nothing else I needed to produce on schedule, the words came readily. It was a spacious season, giving me room to dive fully into working out this book, which is taking shape as a recounting of living the unbearable while preaching good news. By the time I returned to work, I was astonished and grateful to have completed a first draft, no doubt with many, many rounds of edits yet to come.
But beyond the writing, there was more hope and more possibility to be born of this Sabbath time, more than I even knew to long for ahead of time. I learned how to be with my kids in a new way — healthier, more patient, and to be honest, in a way that is just a lot more enjoyable. Less nagging, more delighting. Fewer screens, (in front of me) more space to climb mountains with them, to build forts and towers with them, to read to them, to fully watch their shenanigans. Sabbath, I realized, is not just consenting to snuggling my kids until they fall asleep, counting down the minutes until I can go complete the next task, but actually relishing all of that time with them.
The Sabbath time was a moveable feast, joining our beloveds in New Hampshire and Vermont, Indiana and Nevada and up and down California. We cooked a lot of meals together, and forged a lot of team efforts tackling piles of dishes. In Indiana we were amused to share in another Episcopal Church’s generous meal train ministry as we visited friends with a newborn baby. There was always more than enough, everywhere we went.
And. It is so good to be home. It was so good to be away, and it is so good to be back. Both.
In particular, it’s good to be home where I’m known. Last Monday I arrived back to an office newly upgraded to include a bedazzled paper towel holder installed on my wall, and more rolls stashed all around my office (and Phil’s, just in case). These people know me, love me, and filled with grace, they don’t need me to change. They seem to even celebrate the reality that I will continue flailing excitedly and knocking my coffee all over the place. I haven’t laughed so hard in quite some time.
In coming home, I realized that I am returning with deeper roots in this place, ones that paradoxically seem to have grown stronger and more profound while I was away. I’m coming back steadier, more whole, with more clarity about what it is we’re trying to do together. Above all, I’m returning incredibly grateful to you all for this gift.
Youth Group Kick-off
By the Numbers
Last Sunday evening, we dove headlong into a new year of youth ministry. Here’s a look at the wild fun of the evening, by the numbers:
- Number of Middle Schoolers in attendance: 10
- Number of High Schoolers in attendance: 12
- Number of ostensibly grown-up leaders in attendance: 7
- Number of water balloons launched at leaders in a giant lycra slingshot: 30
- Number of water balloons thrown back at youth: 7
- Number of party balloons popped by 6th graders: 120
- Number of minutes it took them to pop all of said balloons: 2.5
- Stack of Cheeseboard Pizza consumed at the 6th-grade-only dinner, in inches: 8
- Grams of sugar consumed in 6th-grade-only dinner: 756
- Number of middle schoolers and leaders who fit in one massive lycra band amoeba: 13
- Number of flesh wounds incurred playing in our parking lot: 2
- Number that needed any medical attention whatsoever: Thankfully, 0
- Number of attempts taken at learning a new chant in our closing thanksgiving time: 4
- Number of youth who could hit the low note in said chant: 0
- Number of thanksgivings offered: more than we could count.
And, just to share a little more of the fun of that night, here are the strange tidbits that were shared about all our youth group leaders for the year, a crew includes the Revs. Phil Brochard and Liz Tichenor, Emily and Megan Hansen Curran, Blake Harper, Annika McPeek, Calvin Payne-Taylor, and Sarah Crawford. All but one of them are actually true. Among us is someone who…
- was on Japanese television
- has two pet rats, a cat, and forty houseplants
- cleaned a toilet overflowing with poop
- has ash from Mt. Fuji stuck in her knee
- was an Olympic shot-putter
- led a Russian summer camp in Siberia
- traveled on the real Polar Express
Hopefully you can tell that we are having a blast and really excited about the year to come.
Our next Youth Group for Middle and High Schoolers is on September 9th at 6:30 pm in the Youth Room. We’ll also start up a formation hang-out in Emily’s office on September 9th. See Emily Hansen Curran for questions or more information, firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Adult Formation
Stump the Rector: this Sunday at 10:10 am
We often understand religion as in the business of providing answers for our questions. Why am I here? What is my purpose? What happens after death? Why is there so much pain? As a young evangelical, I was certainly taught to value answers more than questions. And sure enough, toward the back of the Book of Common Prayer, we have our own mini-catechism, laid out neatly as a series of questions with brief, matter-of-fact answers. It’s easy enough to pop these answers like Tylenol and hope to wake up without our existential angst in the morning.
When I came to my first Stump the Rector at All Souls in early 2016, I did have some questions I wanted answered, such as “who are these weird people in flowy robes?” and “what do all these hand motions mean?” But I also had these other questions, like “what do we do with all the suffering we witness?” and “how do we read passages in the Bible with ghastly things like eternal torment?” What lay behind these questions was as much about a desire to connect as a desire to know. I wanted to feel less alone in wrestling with such questions, to know that such wrestling was welcome in a community of faith. And to my relief, our priests responded to these questions like real human beings. They answered thoughtfully, and with a sense of responsibility to do justice to the tradition, but also with a sense of realness. They seemed to acknowledge that as we approach those deeper questions, the answers themselves become less relevant than the Spirit behind them.
This Sunday, as we open our year of Adult Formation with a round of Stump the Rector, come and bring your questions. Bring the questions with simple answers, about all those weird details in the liturgy and the tradition. But also bring those deeper questions, the ones that seem to struggle against us as we try to get them out. Our priests will offer answers, of course. But more than that, as we ask these questions, and hear others ask them, we learn to feel less alone. As even our priests, robes and all, enter into wrestling with those deeper questions with us, we learn to see that maybe the answers themselves aren’t the point. Maybe it is in the wrestling itself, in the twilight spaces following those questions that truly stump the rector, that we are transformed.
– Rob Johnson
THE LANGUAGE OF SILENCE
In the midst of our world’s present political upheaval and lack of social justice, how do we, as people of faith, find peace and balance within ourselves? This was the question asked by the Peace and Justice Committee in their decision to offer a time for contemplative prayer at All Souls Parish.
How does silent prayer bring us inner peace? Silence is usually described as the absence of sound. But in most spiritual traditions, silence is seen as an active and powerful form of reaching for the Divine. We often find our deepest and most intimate moments with God when we are able to experience pure presence.
“Be still and know that I am God.”
“In God alone, my soul in silence waits.”
It is not always easy to sit in silence for 20 minutes. The mind is an amazing, prattling machine, full of wanderings, constant thoughts and emotions, some of which are profound and some just repetitive nagging. We slowly learn to let them all go, both the transcendent and the mundane, and simply be present.
We can do this on our own, at home or on a walk, but it is especially powerful in community. We come together seeking courage, faith, and a balance between paying attention to our inner journey while acting for justice.
Come join us for the Brief Introduction to Centering Prayer Workshop this Sunday, September 2nd, from 1:00-3:30 pm in the Parish Hall. A light lunch will be provided. Cherry Haisten and Diane Haavik will be leading the event. Cherry is Program Director at The Center at St. Andrew’s in Seattle, and teaches Centering Prayer as well as The Welcoming Prayer representing the Contemplative Outreach national team. She is also a Eucharistic minister, healing minister, licensed lay preacher and pastor. Diane is a member of All Souls as well as a Clinical Psychologist, Spiritual Director, Centering Prayer facilitator and retreat leader.
“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.” —Etty Hillesum
Children’s Choir Returns!
On September 9th, after the 11:15 am service, come join our Children’s Choir Kickoff! We’ll have food and fellowship followed by a short rehearsal, when you can find out more about what we’re planning for the fall!
Did you know that we have an online directory? If you or your family are not yet in our directory, please see Emily Hansen Curran to add your name and your picture! Or, if you do not currently have a picture associated with your name, also please see Emily to have your picture taken.
USHERS, GREETERS, & SOUND TECHS, OH MY…
We are in need of more help on Sunday mornings in these specific roles above. If you are looking for ways to dive deeper here at All Souls, or new ways to be here, we’d love to have you jump into a new role! Please see any clergy or staff for more information or to say “yes!”.
CLIMATE MARCH IN San Francisco
On Saturday September 8, we’ll join with Interfaith Power & Light in the national march for climate action at the “Rise for Climate, Jobs & Justice” March in San Francisco. We will speak out for our neighbors and the climate we share, forming a faith contingent thousands strong! See Lewis Maldonado for more information, email@example.com.