The SPIRE – October 2019

Dear Edwards Church Community,

I have been asked to share more about my sabbatical, so here it is:

     May 6-17 was split between visiting family and attending a preaching convention. We spent 5 days in Chicago with our daughter Mollie and her fiancée Alex, getting to know Alex’s parents. Then I travelled to Minneapolis to attend the Festival of Homiletics, a 5-day gathering of preachers, church musicians and worship leaders, where we learned and participated in worship (up to 3 times a day) and heard great preachers.

     June 10-July 9 was a mix of travel, retreat and family time. For the first week, I was a tourist, travelling in Northern Ireland with one of my younger sisters. We started in Ballycastle, on the northeast coast of County Antrim, with lodging in a glorified shed on a large sheep farm that also operates as a family camping facility.

         

After three days, we moved south to the Mourne Mountains, between Ulster and Dublin. There we hiked one of the local hills (a la Mt Tom). One ascent had us walking into a fog that enveloped the peak and walking back down in the rain. Fortunately, a friendly cottage inn, complete with wood stove, warm tea and food was waiting. At the end of week one, my sister flew home to the USA and I went on retreat.

 

 

The ancient monastic city at Glendalough, County Wicklow, is considered a “thin place” in Celtic Christianity, a place where the separation between the ordinary natural world and extraordinary spiritual experience is thin. Here St. Kevin, a 6th century monk, established a monastic community that would become a spiritual retreat and pilgrimage destination. It attracted not only the Irish but any committed Christian or spiritual seeker in Europe. One distinctive feature of Celtic Christianity is the manner in which it incorporates the pre-Christian Celtic understanding of spirits (or the Spirit) as being the animating force within all of creation.

 

 

 

From Sunday June 16 until Saturday June 22 I visited the Tearmann Spirituality Centre (https://www.tearmann.ie/), a retreat center staffed by two former missionary priests (Michael and Pat) and a nun (Breada). Though all three are life-long Catholics, their ministry and the ethos of the retreat center is decidedly ecumenical. At Tearmann my daily routine was pretty consistent: 5:30 AM rise and make coffee. Read, ponder and pray. The structured retreat included a list of recommended reading materials. Every day included a short essay by one of the retreat leaders, several scripture selections, a chapter from the history of Glendalough, and writings of Thomas Berry, an American Catholic priest, cultural historian, and eco-theologian of the late 20th century.

 

At 9:30 we gathered for 30-45 minutes of morning meditation, which was mostly silent. The prayer and meditation room, separate from the other buildings, has cushions, chairs and other sitting arrangements, all with a view of the many potted plants and bird feeders on a deck, and beyond them the Wicklow Mountains. After meditation, I would hike most of the day, using the system of trails that criss-cross the national park which surrounds the retreat center. In the late afternoon, I’d clean up and make dinner in my apartment. (The retreat was under-attended, so I had an apartment usually occupied by four to myself.) At 6 PM we’d gather for evening communion. Then at night I’d read some more and stroll around the village.

 

 

I left Glendalough refreshed and with much to savor, I looked forward to a week with my wife Frances, who was starting her one week break from teaching summer courses in Paris. We split the week between Paris and Barcelona, where we ate well and soaked up tours of cathedrals (classical and modern) and other art and architecture. Even with all that, the highlight of our summer would come later, when we baby-sat our 5 month-old grandson Mac over the Labor Day weekend. What a joy to sense one’s place in the circle of life!

 

 

 

After my week with Frances, on June 30 I met our son Patrick in Glasgow, Scotland, so that we could walk most of the West Highland Way and then spend a couple of days on the west coast, hiking and sampling seafood. We did walk from a suburb of Glasgow, following the east side of Loch Lomond and north across the highlands to Glencoe, where some of the big majestic mountains of Scotland are found. It was grounding to spend this kind of time with my son, in nature and unhurried, walking an average of 10-12 miles per day and talking about anything and everything.

 

 

July 9 I returned to the US and went to visit our older daughter Eleanor, her husband Ryan and our grandson Mac in Oakland, CA. This gave me an opportunity not only to visit and help finish a small home project that having a new baby kept them from finishing, it also allowed me to introduce them to a nearby UCC church in Berkley, led by two ministers I know from Massachusetts. Small world!

After my return to the East Coast on July 17 I spent the remaining month of sabbatical as I had the first half, just with less obvious movement. I visited with family, attended worship services as a guest (mostly the Thursday evening jazz communion at Old South Boston, a frequent choice when I can get there), and wondered how to integrate what I had learned from the bits of reading and lots of observing and pondering I’d been doing while hiking.

I visited one sister recovering from surgery for a broken foot and another who is walking through the first year without her husband, who died last March at 72. I spent more time than usual with my large group of McSherry siblings, their partners and offspring at an annual gathering in Cape May, NJ, where almost all of us manage to touch base. We swim in the ocean, catch up with nieces and nephews, watch each other’s’ grandchildren, and decide what’s for dinner and who is cooking – all while sharing the struggles of who’s done what to whom, who’s hurting and why, and what can be done (or needs to be avoided) and why. It is a good family in which to prepare for ministry in the local church, because there is much love in our struggling together!

I am grateful for the time to be refreshed and gain new learning and perspective. May it all bear fruit in our shared ministry at Edwards.

Blessings,

Michael