Sabbatical Diary – July 18

What are you doing here …

I had just barely gotten through the TSA routine, which actually went quite smoothly, and settled in a chair for a small bit of lunch. In the busyness of preparing to leave I’d forgotten to eat. For me, flying without having eaten a little something is generally a bad idea. The only thing worse is having eaten too much. I had far more time than I imagined I would, so out came the tablet. I was going to be a good boy and get a jump on my blogging for this part of sabbatical so that the Living Stones editor would not figuratively whack me. Joy.

The batteries died on the external keyboard. Off to find some. Airport prices are frightening, I passed on one shop, but found them at another. The price was not great, but not as bad as I suspected, and I thought they would be as bad or worse in the UK with current exchange rates. (I was right.) I took the batteries to the counter. The person closest to me was involved in a conversation that didn’t look like it was going to include my purchase any time soon. Another staff person stepped over to ring up the purchase, and since her register was on the other side, I moved around to be closer to it. When she was done she went looking for me back on the far side. When she realized that I had come around to her register, she was joyful, almost “Snoopy doing his happy dance” joyful. She said, I can’t believe you did that. “That’s so nice. No one ever does that. Thank you. You have made my day.”

A friend who loves me enough to challenge me asked me about my time away. I rehearsed with him what was on tap. He replied that he thought sabbatical time was to have a real chunk of time for, as he put it, being in Elijah’s cave. Now that story, you can find it in 1 Kings 19, is one of my favorites, as is the supposed cave in the north of Israel that is said to be “Elijah’s Cave.” It doesn’t matter if it is or not, it was holy ground for me. I digress.

My friend, we’ll call him Steve, said that he thought God’s question to Elijah was key to sabbatical time. God’s question was, “What are you doing here?” I am pretty sure that Steve meant it to mean not so much what am I “doing here” on sabbatical or in the places of the sabbatical. When God asked Elijah that question, Elijah essentially said, I’m looking, longing, for you. God kind of said, Go sit down (at the mouth of the cave}. Elijah sat there looking and listening. Lots of things happened. In fact all the things that happened were the things wherein Elijah expected to find God. But, no God.

God is not always found again in the places of the past. Sometimes we are are too busy in those places, possibly because we have entered complacent routines. Elijah did not find God in the wind, the fire or the earthquake, but when Elijah got still and quiet, in the sheer silence – God was there.

In the stillness of an eight hour flight in a center row, that which I dismissed came back to me. I did something that cost me nothing – I walked around a counter. But, in the silence I can hear the clerk’s voice saying, “What are you doing here (in front of me)?” when she did not see me across the way. In the stillness of the flight I had to move from dismissing the event as “nothing” to accepting and validating the lady’s experience. What was I doing there? It appears I was making her day. Go figure….

What are you doing here …

********  The Sabbatical Diary is published with gratitude and appreciation to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan for granting me sabbatical time and funding, and to the Graduate Theological Foundation, Oxford Foundation Fellowship, which made access to Oxford University for reading and research possible.