During the month of November, I will be taking a month-long sabbatical. This will be an intentional time away from the daily routines and obligations of life and an immersion into the presence of God – a time to give it all to God and let God speak to my life in a deeper and exclusive way. The sabbatical will be a time for God to “melt me … mold me … fill me … and use me,” as the lyrics of one of my favorite hymns, “Spirit of the Living God,” go. 

But I’m not sure that is an adequate explanation of what this sabbatical is all about. You see, things of God are hard to put into words. It seems that our normal way of speaking and using language isn’t capable of fully describing the way God works in my life and what it all means for me. This is the “ineffable” part of God, the part that is truly beyond words. 

But I have discovered a little secret way of speaking about God … and God’s creation … and life in God’s world … that I would like to share with you. It’s a form of writing known as poetry! Poetry is a way of using words that in some curious and unexplainable way, are able to touch the truth of things that normal language just cannot do. I am not a poet –at least in the formal sense of the word. But I have a group of real poets that I keep nearby in books of theirs. They stay close to me because they are able to explain things about God, and reveal other things about my relationship with God, that I just can’t find anywhere else. 

So, I thought I would offer this little gift to all of you — that might be a better way of explaining what this sabbatical is really about. Let me be clear: I am not going on sabbatical because I am worn out or spiritually empty. In fact, it’s just the opposite. My 2 years plus at Vine Street have energized me and stretched me spiritually in ways I knew it would. God led me here to be with you, and I am convinced God has a great plan for us. So in order to be the best Pastor I can be – for God and for you – I am withdrawing for a month so that God, and God alone, can do his work in my heart and on my soul … so that I am best prepared spiritually to serve you in whatever it is God has in store for us up ahead.

And while I am out, you also, as a congregation, will be examining God’s next call for Vine Street. I hope you will make it a point to attend the “Vision Luncheon” on November 10th after church. The Holy Spirit moves in powerful ways when 2 or 3 … or more … are gathered in the name of Jesus! But in addition to that, I also encourage you to take some “withdraw” time for yourself. Create your own Sabbath retreat or mini-sabbatical. Yes, it may be the hardest thing to do given your schedule – but it may also be the most important thing to do given your schedule. When I return for the First Sunday of Advent, we can talk about this further. 

But for now, I ask for your prayers – sincere, intentional, and focused prayers to God on behalf of your Pastor. I know that prayer works, and I will be asking God often to share with me the prayers that are coming from this congregation.

And now, here is my little gift of poetry to you. This poem is by one of my great spiritual guides, the late Mary Oliver. (If you want to know how wonderful she is, just ask my mom!) The poem is called “Invitation” – and better than I ever could, it explains the invitation I’m responding to during my time away. 



Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude –
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.



Mary Oliver, “Invitation,” A Thousand Mornings (New York: Penguin Books, 2013).

Peace to all … and may the grace and love of Jesus Christ fill your heart this month! 

Pastor Bob <><