This is one in my series of sabbatical posts. I started this series in 2013-2014 and, now, the generosity of my employer means that I pick it up again. Technically, this time it is called study leave rather than sabbatical. But I don’t have a blog category for that.
Happy drifting, she said in an e-mail sign-off.
Happy drifting…have you met me? I thought.
But she invited me to something similar five years ago. And I thought the same then. Drifting was not on my sabbatical radar that time. And so, when she had asked which of a whole list of animals we identified with, members of the retreat group were saying things like ‘dolphin’. I, however, only knew how to say ‘racehorse’.
Truth be told, when some of them talked about their spirituality in terms of playing in the sea like dolphins, a little part of me died inside. I was already not sure about the retreat that first night. Age differences, and the gentle sweetness of it all – I felt awkward already. And now dolphins, of all things. Surely, I was in the wrong place.
I didn’t especially want that careless dolphin freedom of floating in the ocean. I know, because I remember her asking me the next night in a private conversation, saying, surely it would be nice, wouldn’t it, just to ‘float along’ in Jesus?
She might as well have been speaking a foreign language. I didn’t even know how to want that. I was more concerned that I was about to kill my racehorse. And whilst I wanted to know how to save her, I never conceived that my racehorse could give way to something else. I loved my racehorse for her speed, her unswerving focus. Dolphins could only be for me a poor substitute.
Yet Jesus did something in that week. The day after, when I met with a different lady, a tectonic shift began, the reverberations of which continue to echo even now. Two days after that, as the retreat wrapped up and someone mentioned those animals again, I remember feeling warmer to the idea of a dolphin gently floating in the life of God. Warmer, but unconvinced I’d ever be that dolphin.
Five years on, I find myself in that place again. I still love my racehorse. And I’ve learned that I am both rider and horse, that the rider had always been dominant and that I’ve needed to learn to know reality also through the horse’s eyes. And I won’t swap that combination of rational, focused calculation and unswerving stubbornness of will and heart after God.
I still love my racehorse, true, and I may also never quite connect with the dolphin. But I hear that call to drift more quickly this time. Within days of sabbatical beginning, I hear him saying what I could not hear last time. And so I begin to drift in his ocean. Fully immersed. Powerless to drive forward. Open, so open, to his acts upon me – that I may move where he moves me and rest where he leaves me.
Yes, this time, earlier than last time, I’m happy, drifting.