You must come in without weapon or tool, alone,
expecting nothing, remembering nothing,
into the eyes of sight, the brotherhood of eye and leaf.
(Wendell Berry, “This Day”, 1985: V)

 

Kylie and I are currently on sabbatical. When I tell people this, I receive replies ranging from outright ignorance of sabbatical all the way to complete understanding. The main response, though, is one of “Oh, so, is that like a break from something?”

 

What am I taking a sabbatical from? It’s an important question. The easy answer is “I am taking a sabbatical from work/mission/stuff in Long Gully”. But that response doesn’t get to the heart of the ‘work’ from which I am resting. What is that work? I suspect that many people, maybe some of my readers, would struggle to articulate what, precisely, is their ‘work’. My ‘work’, as I am speaking of it, lies deeper than the role or activities that make it known.

 

With Seeds in Long Gully, I have coffees with people, organise church, walk the dog around the neighbourhood, visit people, pick young people up from school or home for various stuff, catch up with friends, sing songs, organise projects, go to other people’s events, pray with people, listen, encourage local people to do stuff, cook, commiserate, help build things, make beds, attend meetings. All these activities, and many more, I have done in the name of following Jesus in my neighbourhood.

 

These are not unique to me; anyone can do them, which is their beauty.

 

But I am not resting from these things. If I needed a rest from these activities, I would simply take a day off here and there, which I often do. Sabbatical is taking a rest from, and rediscovering, the work that is uniquely mine in my place.

 

When it comes to their allotted time, the idea of ‘work’ is foreign to what most people have. Most people have a career, or in this day of multiskilling everyone, ‘careers’. The word ‘careers’ brings to mind an out of control car, with an unskilled adolescent at the wheel, flooring the accelerator and making turns and gear changes at the slightest opportunity, ‘careering’ around the corners. You just know its going to end badly.

Our little car hurtles along miserably or merrily, unable to go where we truly need to.

Here I’d like to introduce 2 words which have been lost in the rush for careers. Calling and purpose. Calling: the main task through which your identity as a creature of God is expressed. Some people use the Latin-based word ‘vocation’ – ‘calling’ is a pretty close translation. Purpose is related to calling: when, where, for who, with who, this calling is carried out.

 

When I understand my work in the language of purpose and calling, a sabbatical makes sense, because sabbatical is less about avoiding my role and activities, and more about rediscovering my work. The larger backdrop of purpose and calling give meaning and depth to work. This larger frame invites me to answer questions like: What is my calling? With whom should I carry it out? Where might this be? Is my work here done? Put bluntly, purpose and calling define my work.

 

Without a sense of vocation and purpose, our work quickly reduces to ‘role’ and ‘activity’ which can easily lose their anchor to our truest callings. Our little car hurtles along miserably or merrily, unable to go where we truly need to.