Summer Reflections before a Sabbatical

It is the last day of May and my children are scampering through the sprinklers. It is like miracle, to be this lovely and warm so early in the sunny season. It feels as though the whole city is breathing a sigh of relief and sinking back into the lawn furniture, which they’ve only just now got brave enough to pull out from the basement to expose to the elements.

It’s Monkfish Abbey night –which, for those of you reading this post on my Magpie Girl site—is a small house church/spiritual growth community that we’ve hosted for several years now. The RSVP’s for this week have been trickling in and our numbers are teeny tiny. The summer siren song of house guests and outdoor haunts has already begun to lure people away to pursuits that can only be enjoyed a few scant weeks out of the year. As the priestess of all things seasonal, I’m totally fine with these sun-induced absences. There is nothing more important in the Northwest than enjoying the sun while you can. It’s a big part of taking care of your body and your soul while living here in this semi-hospitable climate.

Hosting Monkfish Abbey is always a bit of an uncomfortable job for me. At first I called myself a pastor and tried to do churchy things to keep everyone nice and saved/safe. Then I started seeing myself more as a spiritual director and I spent some time teaching people contemplative practices, because that is what my Type A personality needed the most. And as my ordaining mentor always says, “You only preach the sermons you need to hear.” My hope—our hope as founding members—has always been that this would be a teaching-learning community with a lot of equal footing, the sort of place where everybody could play. It’s taken me a long time to let go of old, patriarchal, hierarchical church habits. It’s only very recently that I’ve been acting more like a simple hostess—vesting the space with peace and cleanliness, making sure there’s TP in the bathroom and cutlery on the table. On my best days, this seems as natural to me as breathing. Other times, when I’m worn down it is very very hard. There’s a lot of sweeping involved–sweeping and washing dishes, and emptying ash trays. That probably doesn’t seem like much, but as you know I am sickly, and kind of a whiner. So some weeks, it feels like a lot. But no matter how burned out I am on the prep-and-clean-up, I always get a little lift when everyone is here. I always feel happy that we are not living alone, an isolated family with 2.5 kids in a house that’s made of ticky tacky and they all look just the same. Every Thursday night, when I go to bed, I am grateful.

More and more often other people are making the meals and offering the post-dinner activity, with me offering some small semblance of a ‘spiritual development’ activity just once in every 3 or 4 weeks. It’s pretty far removed from the senior pastor model of church life where the ordained person controls and takes care of nearly everything, their finger in every pie and their signature on every sermon. For most our exisistence as a community I’ve struggled with this lack of active guidance, and I rarely feel satisfied with how well I’m taking care of our little monkish life. There’s a lot of self talk telling me that I’m not doing a good job as a “pastor,” followed by a great deal of guilt that I’ve quite possibly left my real vocation behind at the mothership/motherchurch. Shouldn’t I be consistently offering people some sort of lesson? Shouldn’t I meet with people one-on-one during the week? Shouldn’t we be cracking open the Bible, or at least reading some of the dozens of religious non-fiction books publishers send me throughout the year? Shouldn’t we, you know, pray?

Simultaneous to all this worry is the undeniable compulsion to write, collage, and generally muck about in my studio – basically doing anything but pastoring. It makes me wonder what in the world a person with a master’s in theology is doing crafting zines and knitting rabbits. At the same time, these newfound studio loves are what brings me the most joy. I can’t imagine relegating this artist-work to the sidelines of my living.

When my best self is present–when I am the most centered and most aware– my guiding voice says, “You know, your pastoring self is doing just fine. You shouldn’t be doing any of those religiousy things, not any more than you are anyway. Really. It’s just fine. Go pick up your paintbrush.” It’s a peculiar thing – that all the things I’ve been preaching over the years – ‘everything we do is worship’ and ‘art creates holy space’ and ‘conversation is prayer” —all of these things are actually becoming real, and my very silly self is having a hard time believing it. It’s as though I’d hoped Willy Wonka’s factory was real, and now that I’m in the midst of the multi-colored glory of it all I’m blinking my eyes and waiting for it to disappear.(Go ahead dear, you can even eat the dishes.)

When I stop worrying long enough to ask myself “what’s really gone on this past year at Monkfish?,” I actually get a rather nice answer. We’ve talk about our lives. We’ve wrestle off and on with how to be more giving and more justice seeking. We’ve given money to good causes now and again. We’ve mourn the damage our old faith practices have done to us and others. We’ve gotten angry about stuff. We’ve engaged in our own forms of intercession and hope. We’ve put our toes in the water and to try to find new ways of being and doing and living. All of that seems pretty good really, even if it’s done in a very quiet, very laid back way. It all squares nicely with the way Jesus lived (especially all that wine!); it’s nicely moral, and its not been too damaging with the dogma. Not bad really, for a bunch of renegades and a heterodox pastor.

This summer we are closing Monkfish – at least at our house—for six weeks. I don’t think we’ve had more than two weeks off in a row since we started in 2003, so I guess it’s time for a sabbatical. When we return, if people return, I’ll continue to “hold space until something good can get born.” (Jen says that, or maybe Anne, or both.)

So, if you’re reading this on the Urban Abbess site, things will be quiet for awhile – maybe for good, as I’m considering rolling all my writing into one site again. Where on sabatical, you see, trusting the Muse and enjoying the sun. This site will stay up for your perusal and my storage purposes. Maybe I’ll see you again in the Fall. Until then, enjoy the sun, be good to each other, and eat lots of watermelon. Namaste, and God(ess) bless!

Much shalom,


9 Responses to “Summer Reflections before a Sabbatical”

  1. Eliacin Says:

    May the showers of the Spirit pour on you richly and generously during this time of rest.

  2. Rachel Says:

    I love reading about Monkfish Abbey. There’s a lot in what you do that inspires me and moves me.

    I hope that when you return from your sabbatical you feel refreshed and renewed. (And if you stop blogging here, will you tell us where to find you elsewhere? :-)

  3. bob c Says:

    do less

  4. lyn Says:

    I love reading your blog Rachelle, you are very inspiring. Have a wonderful rest, and I look forward to reading more in the fall should you start writing here again. God Bless. :)

  5. Rachelle Says:


    Oh, I am SO into doing less. Did you see my pretty little sign here:

    I keep it on my fridge and it guides me everyday!

    Thanks all, for reading!



  6. Evan Says:

    Hi Rachelle,

    Reading your post made me feel sad and excited and hopeful all at the same time. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your monk-ish exploits over the last couple of years, both the good times and the not-so-good. I have been undergoing some significant growth in my own spiritual and creative life during this time, and I think you have unknowingly contributed a great deal to that.

    More recently, I have wanted to follow your lead and set up a little something here amongst my friends and neigbours, but I have never quite managed to actually DO it… but somehow, after reading this post, a little switch has flipped in me, and a little light has come on that seems to say ‘ok - now it’s my turn…’. (I’m not sure why, but there it is…..)

    Anyway, in case you don’t end up posting here anymore, I just wanted to add my voice of thanks to all the others out there who owe you so much. My intuition tells me that your sabbatical will be blessed and life-changing, and I pray that it is so. :-)

    Evan Williams
    Wellington, New Zealand

  7. kellybean Says:

    wow. you are wise and courageous.
    blessings galore as you open yourself to Be
    and to be loved for simply Being.

  8. Karla MG (Kmamommy) Says:

    Of course, you know, I’ll keep holding you into the Light as your Abbey-self rests and recharges; as Magpie Girl soars into the gloriousness of doing less! I found a mini-poster my soph. year of college that’s had a prominent place in every space I’ve called “home.” It’s very simple white lettering on pink tagboard: “Slow me down, Lord.” When things are chaotic and crazy (pretty much always), I breathe that thought into my very depths. It helps. My Mother God holds me to her breast, calming the raging storms, nursing me back to wholeness. HUGS of blessings and joys to all who call the Abbey “home” as this sabbatical begins! –K

  9. Goddess of Leonie Says:

    just skipped joyfully here from jen’s site…
    blessings for your deep sharings and spirited living!
    i think i’ll cosy into a couch here ~

    with love and light,