I shall shortly be approaching the half-way stage in my sabbatical. It is time to share some observations.
After the busyness of Easter I felt it important to spend some days away from home to mark an immediate break from the routine of work and so went to York with Julia and Helena, leaving Tim at home with his grandma to revise for his GCSEs. I had been warned that vicars who begin sabbaticals often find it hard to make the transition after months and years of ministry which have an alarming capacity to blur into one another. I remember my first Monday on return from York, spent in central London, trying to quell an unpleasant and irrational feeling of panic at the loss of structure which felt almost like sensory deprivation. I am grateful it didn’t last long and now struggle to recall the sensation.
Late April was unseasonally warm and I anticipated spending long days in the Kent countryside with a novel for companion. This strategy was quickly dropped! Since then I have visited: the National Observatory on the four hundredth anniversary of the first use of the telescope by Galileo; the newly extended Whitechapel Gallery; the British Museum for a talk on the Iranian city of Isfahan; the Cartoon Museum for a display of thirty years of political satire on Margaret Thatcher (a surprisingly vivid trip through my consciousness of early adult life – she came to power the year I took O Levels); the Globe Theatre with Helena for a production of Romeo and Juliet; the Lyttelton Theatre for the play Burnt by the Sun (a discourse on the impact of Stalinism on ordinary Russians); the cinema for the deliciously decadent pleasures of matinee screenings (see State of Play if you get the chance, an intelligent political thriller that stands almost alone against a recent tide of sequels, special effects laden action movies and derivative romantic comedies. And yes, I did see Star Trek – only to spend time with the children of course – and loved it in spite of what I have just said). Two visits to watch cricket have been deterred by the forbidding edge to the temperature and one by the ineptitude and seeming indifference of the West Indies which meant that tickets to the Saturday of the Lord’s Test were redundant by the Friday. We made up for this on Tim’s sixteenth birthday with a Twenty20 match at Lord’s – fast food cricket for an impatient world and just as addictive.
Basically I could get used to this kind of life – and the family could too. Both Tim and Helena have observed how much nicer it is having me around more. I have been able to help Tim with revision in ways I might not have managed before. The odd thing is being more aware of Julia’s working hours than previously. The inevitable lack of companionship in many of the things I’ve done has bitten at times, though I have been able to see more of friends (when they can spare the time!). But it would be churlish to complain. This is a remarkable period of my life. There have even been physical changes: to sleep patterns, which have become more stable with no evening work; to my emotions, as the flaring up of transient anger has subsided; and to my spiritual life, which has needed this attention. In Not Dead Yet (HarperCollins, 2008) Rabbi Julia Neuberger observes how the longing of many for early retirement may be cured by a wider and timely availability of sabbaticals in the workplace. I can begin to imagine this for others now.
It may surprise some people, but Christian leaders are prone to blunting the edge of their personal spiritual life through the demands of duty. The perception of many might be that the privilege of full-time ministry gives both the space and the permission to grow spiritually, but unless proper attention is given to this the reverse can happen. One of the indicators of this is how Christian leaders often end up taking a holiday from God when they take a holiday from work. They allow their ministry to define their relationship with God and so when they stop work, there is a disconcerting void, rather like a married couple who have to learn to relate to one another in new ways when they get more time to themselves on holiday or upon retirement. The basis of the covenant has to be re-negotiated. I may be overstating the case here, both generally and personally, but there are elements of truth that I think others would recognise.
Anyway, enough of this. I have lasagne to make for dinner, just to prove I can be a house husband too!
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