I remember back in June a moment when I was imagining this sabbatical and Jerusalem and all of the seductive perfection that clings to both of those ideas. As ideas. This time was going to restore my soul with disciplined prayer practice, heal my body with a daily exercise, and fix whatever problems trouble my family life.
The lived reality is grittier, less comfortable. Yerushalayim Lemata, the earthly Jerusalem, is not easy or peaceful. Sabbatical in another country with two little kids does not offer deep perfect rest or retreat. I am not suddenly a disciplined person with healthy, holy routines. And it turns out that my family challenges are not just caused by a crazy work schedule and the intense demands of my job.
In all of this two insights keep returning. Insights that I probably didn’t need a sabbatical in Jerusalem to find — wherever you go, there you are. And wherever you are is the garden of Eden*. Those Wizard of Oz lessons.
And when I get out of my stress-mind and take a breath… Jerusalem Kabbalat Shabbat is magical. Being able to dance and play with my kids on a rainy Shabbes morning without somewhere else to be is a deep joy (though exhausting). Having time for daily conversations and coffee with my husband is a gift (even if the conversations are sometimes less than romantic.) Walking (when the weather is good) down the newly landscaped path in Baka to drop my kids in a Hebrew preschool is blissful (when they aren’t fighting over the stroller.)
Many days hold adventures and encounters with thought provoking locals and holy places. Some days I have noticed time slow down and sunlight sparkling and bird song breaking through the traffic. My pace has slowed. My mind is not preoccupied with the dramas of other families or the politics of a small organization. I have time to take baths. To write. To read books that have nothing to do with my work. To sit in a cafe and strike up conversation with a 74 year old Jerusalemite and his pals who all think peace is impossible. To browse through wedding photos and baby photos with my kids and tell them stories.
At times I crave some intense spiritual arrival or memorable experience that will make me feel I am using my precious sabbatical well. But when I can remember — I see that the whole point is to release that way of Being. To find sabbatical in the joyful saturated green of the wet grass after the rain. Even if it was always there. Even if I didn’t need to bring my family across the world to see it.
Photo above from a gate on a hilltop in Ein Kerem (I still don’t have the code to get in…) A quote from Malachi 3:1 ... And suddenly, the Lord that you seek comes to His temple …
* As one dear colleague pointed out to me, in the face of profound suffering, it might even be cruel to ask a person to call his experience “the Garden of Eden.” This reflection is not meant to minimize anyone’s suffering, or to suggest that real pain is only ‘in your head.’ Rather it is written from a moment of relative ease, noticing the power of even my “first world tsurus” to obscure the beauty and wonder available within the ‘ordinary.’ Perhaps every place can be both Heaven and Hell at once…