Sabbatical, Writing


Where I wrote today.
Where I wrote today.

(Warning: This is a little meta.)

I guess I’ve said already that through the great generosity of my dear wife, I am taking a sabbatical, which gives me time to think about what’s next, but also gives me time to write.

I’ve been a writer since I was old enough to put words together on paper: childish poetry, romantic stories, terrible one-act plays, school papers, religious songs (teenage variety), the many college papers of an English and History double major, short stories (a little better than the earlier era), one act plays (just as awful and maybe worse), dozens of journals (almost all burned on the fire at the house in Portland before I left), poetry that was one step better, records of dreams you really wouldn’t want anyone to ever see, many reflection papers (we’re in seminary now), and then sermons and reflections on scripture and that public journal that is this blog and its forerunners, which is, on the whole, far cheerier than any of the private journals and perhaps also far more self-deceiving.

Now my commitment is to write for the next couple of months, at least, the way real writers do it, to sit down at the desk or table at the same time every day and simply write.

On Twitter, writers use the hashtag #amwriting. I’ve been checking in there and making a note of myself this week. Before I went away, I had two articles to finish (the dreaded sermon reviews for Lectionary Homiletics) and another piece to work on for a deadline. Now I have only the writing I’m moved to do, with no one looking over my shoulder…and not for the blog. It occurs to me that if a person wants to put something in a book someday, it’s probably better not to give it away to the world on the blog. It also occurs to me that writing for the blog is seeking the kind of instant gratification we used to get back in the day before all the community mojo moved to Facebook. That isn’t likely to happen. And I do hope to get into some kind of groove again with the lectionary and maybe even the (gasp!) Narrative Lectionary since kathrynzj’s church will be moving in that direction later this year.

But the most important reason for writing just for myself for now is the cultivation of ruthless honesty. I’ve been very, very careful for years now, not to hurt anyone’s feelings with my writing. And it’s not like I’m setting out to damage others, but I want to tell my truth, at least to me, while I still can.

Listening for Madeleine -- and my new library card.
Listening for Madeleine — and my new library card.

Hilariously, and in a spirit of complete contradiction, I’ve been reading “Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices,” in which her daughter, Josephine Jones, and others make it clear that a lot of the stuff she published as memoir was simply made up. “She would make up a narrative to confirm what she thought should have been…She would make sense of a thing to her own satisfaction. Then for her that story was reality,” says Josephine (p. 171).

It was her version of the world.

Maybe what I think of as ruthless honesty is my version of my world.

Maybe, if anyone else ever reads this material, people will say, “Oh, I don’t remember it that way at all!” LP can tell you I retell conversations that happened earlier on the same day in the way I think they make sense rather than the way she remembers them, so this is entirely likely.

Another day perhaps we’ll take on the difference between facts and truth. Meanwhile, #amwriting.


1 Cor, Epiphany 3C, Orientation, Sabbatical, The New Normal


“I’m having a wardrobe crisis!”

“It’s just a retreat,” answered my sensible wife. “Saturday morning casual. How would you usually dress for a retreat?”

“Usually I would be the pastor,” I replied.

This was different. Today I was both the new girl and the pastor’s wife. What to wear? Who to be?

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. (1 Cor 12:14, NRSV)

It seems this body consists of many members, and keeping track of which one goes on retreat is only one of the complex calculations of my new life. The room is full of women, mostly from the church but some from the surrounding area, many of whom I’ve met but many not, even a few who have invited us to their homes for delicious dinners, or “friended” me on Facebook. One even helped unpack my great-grandmother’s china.

But many have no idea who I am. And some might rather not know, and I can’t be sure who they are. So I do what I do, what I learned to do when I was a little girl. I introduce myself to people and hope that’s enough. I put out my little hand, and I look them in the eye and say, “I’m Martha Spong.”

It’s a new, weird thing. I suspect if I had married a male pastor, I would be telling people readily, “I’m Pastor KJ’s wife.” But there’s no need to throw out Molotov Cocktails with people who may be uneasy. That’s what I tell myself.

I felt this way until I met someone who was even more new than I am, maybe not by the dates on the calendar (she has lived her a few months longer) but by her association with the church. After all, I’ve helped lead worship (August, 2011) and attended a church picnic and taken two study leave weeks in the office! I know where the super-secret bathrooms are. At the other end of the table is a woman who doesn’t know anyone yet, and as we talk on the retreat about how friendship means taking risks and doing things that might feel uncomfortable for the sake of the other person, I get my bearings. I introduce myself. Her story spills out, and there are commonalities, so I respond with a fragment of mine, and then I take the risk. I say, “Do you know the Senior Pastor?” There is a slight nod. “I’m her partner, and I just moved here, too.”

friendsI have her cell phone number. I’m going to call her soon so we can have coffee and talk about being new in town.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. (1 Cor 12:27-31)

I may not be the pastor, and I may be the new girl, and I may not feel 100% comfortable saying I’m kathrynzj’s wife in that space, but I am Martha, a follower of Jesus, and part of my calling as a faithful person is connecting.

Reflectionary, Relocation, Sabbatical, The Inner Landscape

Adjustments (from Thursday afternoon)

The Coke Machine
The Coke Machine

I’m sitting in Wegman’s, a store you won’t find in Maine, in the huge area for people who want to eat food made on the premises. The WiFi is free, and the sodas comes from an automated soda fountain. Across the table, kathrynzj is working on her laptop, and I’ve been learning how to find a Word Doc in Dropbox, open it in Pages, edit it, then save it as a Word Doc again in Dropbox–all on my new iPad Mini.

I might as well be on Mars, I am so far away from Wednesday afternoons with LP and my laptop at Arabica.

A driver’s license, a library card, a new license plate, an AETNA card for the dental plan all claim I live here now. I’ve had mail from not one but two churches (Presbyterian and UCC). I’m learning the difference between the Giant, Weis and, yes, Wegmans. These are superficial adjustments, like learning how to work a ridiculously complicated remote control. (What the heck is FIOS, anyway? You kids get off my lawn.)

Even when a person is happy, a big moves means some complicated adjustments. I’ve hesitated to rhapsodize about the good parts because certain people miss each other. I’ve hesitated to whine about the ways I feel a bit displaced and disconnected because the reason I made this move is because certain people missed certain other people.

And because I believed, and still do, that God called me to it.

“…and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10b

I am admittedly ignorant of Nehemiah. The longer sense of the passage is this: the people are hearing the word of the Lord, and they are rejoicing and weeping, because God’s love is a lot to get your head around, really, but they are reassured that it is God’s good day. Go home, eat and drink, because the Lord’s Day is not for mourning and weeping. Make arrangements to care for those in need, yes, but seriously, be less serious. Eat the fat and drink the sweet wine.

Somewhere here in South Central Pennsylvania, between the places I’ve fallen off the GPS grid and the places that now feel as familiar as home could ever feel, is God’s joy for me. I keep trying to call it a thing I’ll do, but kathrynzj points out that it’s enough to be here and be me. This bird is having Sabbath in her new nest, and it’s okay.

Believing that may be the biggest adjustment of all.