Sabbatical time for ministers is unique to each minister. We each have to follow our hearts and souls toward what is calling us forward in this time of rest, renewal, and reflection. Recently I listened to a guided meditation containing affirmations “to help you switch on the happiness button in your brain and have a magical day.” One of the affirmations is “I make plans that are flexible and open to the surprises life has in store for me.”
I made plans to backpack on the Appalachian Trail for 30 days … really serious plans! There are countless details that have to be considered for food, shelter, clothing, and so forth. I embarked on my journey on Easter Sunday, starting with an ascent of over 3,000 feet in elevation change over very challenging terrain. Over the next four days I hiked more difficult ascents, navigated steep descents, walked through pouring rain, and found my way through dense fog. I saw great beauty, the devastating effects of humanity where whole forests and mountaintops were burned to the ground, and found hope in the new life emerging in those spaces.
I felt strong, capable, and agile. And, a knee injury I sustained last year kept nagging me all along the way. After four days, four nights, and 30 miles, I came to the realization that if I continued to hike for 26 more days, this could be my last hike. I’m young(ish)! I want to hike for 20 or 30 more years! So, I said, “Yes!” to a future of hiking and came off the trail. I am making a commitment to myself to go on day hikes and overnight hikes several times a year so I can regularly connect with the earth and keep my body strong.
Spiritually, this hike was extraordinary. I can’t wait to share some of the stories with you when I return. I encountered over 270 people hiking north as I hiked south from the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, NC. I had deep conversations with several people, and with each person I encountered, however briefly, I felt the divine spark of connection. I walked with a bigger smile, a lighter step, and a song on my heart after each encounter. It was a great joy to have this experience. I am full of gratitude.
On another note, there is much happening in our UU faith in the past couple of months. Emotions are high as deep wounds from many decades are being exposed, wounds that lay hidden or ignored for too long. I expect many of you are tuned in, and perhaps wondering where we are going. I have a deep and abiding faith in Unitarian Universalism and I am excited for our future … we are finding a new way towards being the multicultural, multigenerational, spiritually pluralist faith many of us dream about. I hold you all in my heart with compassion as we navigate the journeys of our faith, with all the ascents, descents, sunshine, downpours, and fog.