Jul 19, 2018

In Good Faith: Soft Landings

In my latest In Good Faith column, I write about my sabbatical reentry and the reentries we all make at various points in our lives.

Soft Landings

Astronauts talk about getting their Earth legs back after a mission to space. Sailors stepping ashore after a long voyage speak of sea legs. I’m not sure what the equivalent might be for clergy returning from a four-month sabbatical. Pulpit legs?

But the predominant image that comes to mind after returning from a transformative time
away comes courtesy of our space program: reentry. For astronauts, reentry into the earth’s atmosphere and the return to terra firma can be jarring. Retired astronaut Ron Garan, described his experience of reentry on the Soyuz space capsule as being, “like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, on fire, then crashing really hard.” 

I’m not suggesting my own reentry was quite so dramatic, but it’s a slight shock to the system. After traveling and writing and not shaving for a significant chunk of time, reality hits hard. I’m again beholden to my calendar and the responsibilities of leading a growing congregation and e-mail and deadlines. So many deadlines.

Yet, it’s also comforting to return to the routine, and I’m excited to share my experiences with my parishioners over the coming months and years. In addition to traveling to Central America and Europe and a bunch of places in between, I completed my major sabbatical goal of writing a book on the intersection of coffee and faith called, naturally, Holy Grounds (Fortress Press - spring 2019). So, in that sense, my return feels more “mission accomplished” than “Houston, we have a problem.”

While my own reentry comes after an unusually long period of time away, summertime is traditionally full of such reentries, albeit on a smaller scale. Whether you vacation in exotic locales or enjoy some down time in your family room, eventually you return to your normal routine. You can’t live out of a suitcase forever and there’s a limit to how much binge watching Netflix you can do before your eyes bug out.

In a way, life itself is a series of reentries. We change jobs or get married or have babies or grieve the death of a loved one. Returning from each new experience opens us to the possibility of personal transformation as we reenter the rhythm of our daily lives. Sometimes the return to the regular routine is jolting, and sometimes it’s smooth and natural. Either way, we reenter changed by the new experiences and encounters we’ve had along the way.

For Christians, Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate reentry. He comes bursting out of the tomb, after three days, and things are both the same and very different. He remains wholly himself and yet transfigured in resurrection glory.

In this sense, there are some parallels to our own lives. For us, we reenter our own life situations changed and indelibly marked by the experience of time away. We may return refreshed or renewed or with new perspective on the circumstances of our lives. We need time away, but we can’t stay away forever. Reality returns, responsibilities await, relationships need tending. This is the give and take that defines so much of our earthly existence, a constant struggle for balance. 

My own reentry has been more soft landing than crash landing, and I’m grateful for that. May your own reentries be gentle this summer. Enjoy some time away, and may your eyes be opened to the beautiful gift that is your daily life.

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