“There are places I’ll remember….”
(The Beatles – “My Life”)
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars…”
“There are places I’ll remember all my life – though some have changed…” These words from the Beatles song, “In My Life,“ framed my sabbatical journey over the past few months. I have attempted to capture images of some of these places in my sabbatical project – a black and white photo retrospective I entitled, Places of Grace along My Journey.
I used the gift of my sabbatical to revisit and reflect on some places and spaces I remember as being significant in my life. That journey took me to Southern California, where I visited some of my favorite beaches and towns. As some of you know, the ocean has a profound effect on my spirit. While living in California, my husband Edward and I would regularly drive the hour from Claremont to walk two hours on the shore. It served as a place where I could reflect and renew – as I wrestled with some of the challenges that are part of ministry and life. The sounds, the sites, and scents of this visit did not disappoint. These were places I remember with a deep love as they represent the spaces where we raised our son, Dakota, and I began to appreciate mid-council ministry.
Sitting on the pier in Huntington Beach and watching the sun set still took my breath away, as the silhouette of the surfers dotted the movement of the waves as they waited for an ocean swell to ride. I could not help but be reminded of God’s hand in creation, in the perfection of sun, moon, earth – of their dance in the reality of time. The words of the psalmist (8:3) resonated in my heart, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars.” There are no words that fully capture God’s work in creation.
My time in California also included a cliché, but much-loved Harley motorcycle ride down Pacific Coast Highway. The truth is that things feel different on the back of a “hog” – there is a vulnerability caused by the speed and the exposure to the elements – especially the sun and wind. I have loved making this ride over the years. California – the complexities of a beautiful land defined by a breath-taking beauty amidst the challenges of earth, wind, and fire.
In October, we traveled back to Italy, where I lived for more than six years. Italy – a European land where the past and the present co-exist in ways unfamiliar to us as a young nation. Italy was pivotal in my life – I learned a third language and built a life with Edward before we returned to the states to study at Princeton Seminary. I preached my very first sermon at the American Church in Rome (St. Paul’s Episcopal Church). I learned the value of patience – it is hard to ignore the fact that the very real physical structures before me in these cities were not built overnight. Their structures and stories have stood the test of time and serve as reminders to a history that continues to inform us today. From the Grand Canal in Venice, Verona, the Italian Riviera, to Pisa, Tuscany, and Rome – I was transported to piazzas and places where we lived and played. What a gift it was to return to these familiar places and have my mind and heart reclaim this chapter of my story. There was a coming of age that occurred in Europe – a reclaiming of my faith and self.
After two months away from the rhythms of my life as your Executive Presbyter, I have returned with a deep sense of appreciation. I am struck by the theology of place and space that bookends chapters in the memories and experiences of our lives. This is true for all of us – even without the gift of a sabbatical. There are places we all remember – that trigger instant memories and a profound love. I am equally aware that there are places that trigger pain as well – but this season for me was a season to reclaim “grace.” I have come to understand that reclaiming “grace” is a spiritual discipline that invites us to make the time to allow ourselves to celebrate those spaces that have contributed to our formation and re-formation as individuals and as a people of faith. This does not require a formal sabbatical – but it does require an intentional moment to reflect, allowing the images and sounds of God’s presence to touch the depth of our souls.
I am grateful for the space to reflect. Grateful also for this place known as the Presbytery of Philadelphia. Much of my heart and mind have been shaped by the stories of faithfulness and the images of hope and grace embodied by you, our congregations and ministries. Thank you for that gift and be assured that your faithful witness and love was with me as I made my pilgrimage to the west, to the east, and back home again.