Let’s Go Sauntering

Before he departed for Sabbatical Adventure 1, Dave read to me a quote from John Muir:

“I don’t like either the word [hike] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not ‘hike!’ Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre’, ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”

Sainte-Terre, French for Holy Land. Which made saunterers, sainte-terre-ers, pilgrims.

Apparently this lovely idea originated with Thoreau. It’s likely Muir was referencing Thoreau, and it also gives me some small comfort that even brilliant thinkers can be less than 100% correct. Sadly, dictionaries and linguists largely reject this word origin.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) also rejects saunter as a twist on s’aventurer, which looks like adventure and means to take risks – and also holds appeal. It seems that the word at one point meant to muse, and later took on the idea of a leisurely stroll, possibly because one walked slowly while pondering their thoughts.

Yet one might argue that all land is holy. That Moses stood on holy ground, that the pilgrims walked on holy trails toward holy land, and that wherever we place our feet, you and me and all of us, that place is holy. Whether we hike – rather saunter – through the pure beauty of Thoreau’s Walden, or the staggering beauty of Muir’s Sierra Nevadas, or on the pilgrim trails through beautiful European scenery, or through the inner city look-for-it beauty of Oakland, we are on holy ground precisely because we are there and God was already there and God walks with us in all places.

In the next month, we will drive from California to Nashville, from Nashville to Montana, from Montana to California – approximately 7,400 miles. Depending on the length of the drive between destinations, we will spend one or two nights in most destinations. We know that’s not nearly enough, that we are attempting to cram too much in too fast. We’re taking the highlights tour. I’m sure some days it will feel like we’re flying through the country, watching blurry countryside flash by the windows of our (thankfully air conditioned) SUV.

We belong firmly to the camp of those ready to infuse God-sight and spiritual meaning into our activities and surroundings. So whether we drive through, stop by, adventure, hike, or saunter, we are ready to take it all in and encounter God in all of it. We will take some healthy risks. We will leisurely consider the landscape as we walk, pondering thoughts silently and aloud. We will warmly greet fellow travelers and those who call each place home (and I do mean warmly greet, as we travel through southern states in June).

Thoreau also wrote: “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” We intend to live fully in this season of travel. Breathing, drinking, and tasting the deliciousness of our time together exploring the United States. I don’t feel at all resigned but rather wild about the possibilities of abandoning ourselves to the earth’s influence. After all, as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

I’ve been praying the prayer below each morning for a year, and it has taken on new meaning with Dave’s sabbatical and the playful planning for this trip. Pray with us?

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;
May he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;
May he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;
May he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.
Common Prayer, Shane Claiborne

I will be away from my computer while we travel, so follow me on Instagram for more on our adventures across the United States.

Recovery

Five Minute Friday prompt: RECOVER

This summer is all about recovery.

After a long, hard year of too many indoor hours, hunched over computers, struggling to work and learn and connect through Zoom. After a few long, difficult years of ministry. After a long slog through the worst school year ever. After anxiety and injury and illness. After injustice and trauma and differences about which we can no longer agree to disagree. After all, we seek to recover.

Recovery is key to sabbatical, a sabbath season. In sabbath we redirect ourselves to God, trusting him to take care of the details we necessarily let go of in order to rest fully. We let him fill us up, refresh our joy, lead us back to our best selves, and show us a way forward, maybe a new or different way.

Dave’s reveling in Sabbatical Adventure #1, a fly fishing trip in Montana with C22 and a friend. He’s immersed in nature where God has regularly restored his soul. Spending long days in the sunshine (and snow) and water, focused fully on the playful task at hand. (Thanks to our praying community!)

Adventure #2 is coming right up: Dave, Q17, and I will take an epic road trip around the United States. Over four weeks we’ll travel from the San Francisco Bay Area of California to Nashville, TN, and back again along a different route. We will camp and explore national and state parks. We will stay in a few boutique hotels and AirBnBs. We will wander through America seeking God’s goodness after some long, difficult years in our country.

U.S. States Map

We can’t wait to wave goodbye for a time as we wave hello to the road ahead. We have a good plan and we know to expect the unexpected, good and hard and God in all of it. We anticipate that we will recover our senses of adventure and humor. We will see old wonders, meet kind people, eat delicious food, create new memories, and have stories to share.

I have one more week to blog before we take off, and then I will be away from my computer for longer than ever since I first encountered a humongous PC as a high school senior. I’ll take along a brand new journal instead. And when I have WiFi, I will post on Instagram. Follow me there to keep up on our travels.

Gone Fishin’

Today marks the beginning of Dave’s first sabbatical adventure: a ten-day fly fishing trip from California to Montana and back with C22 and a friend.

He learned to fly fish as a child but didn’t have much chance to practice until a few years ago when he began organizing an annual trip for men in our church. That led to occasional one- and two-day trips with a friend or two. During the pandemic, when in-person church programming came to a screeching halt, he was able to slip away on non-meeting days to hit the river more often; sometimes he was on the road before sunrise and returned late at night just to spend most of the day fishing. Necessarily outdoors and socially-distance, it was one of the safest ways to break out of the everyday sameness.

In February he decided to learn to tie his own flies, as his grandfather had done before him. He started watching YouTube videos, he ordered more craft supplies in months than I have in years, he even once plucked feathers off a fresh turkey roadkill (gross, I know, but he washed well and the feathers are pretty…). He designed his own workstation set-up with a vice to clamp it to his desk and another vice to hold the teensy-tiny beads and ribbons and what-nots that become his intricate creations.

He told me recently that he thinks he’s making flies for a few cents each, so even though he’s buying supplies, he’s spending less than he would if he had to purchase the flies. We got a fly fishing catalogue in the mail and I was shocked: a set of six flies for $50? Maybe he should start selling them!

After his last day trip, he happily reported that every fish he caught he did so using one of his own flies. His hobby that supports his hobby is providing layers of satisfaction.

If you’re the praying type, keep Dave, Corban, and Mike in your prayers. It’s a long drive, and the forecast predicts up to a few inches of snow … and they’ll be camping for some of the trip. Of course we want to keep them safe, and also enjoying long, in-depth conversations and making wonderful memories. After all, rest and refreshment are essential to the purpose of a sabbatical.

On Creativity & Sabbatical

When I proposed the Create Challenge I intentionally did not offer an estimated word count, recognizing that, depending on the type of creativity, some contributors would need more or less space. And let’s be honest, some days creativity comes in a concise burst or single image while other days words pour forth like a flooded midwinter river roaring through a storm. Today’s contributor, my friend and co-worker, offered me the editorial hatchet; I picked up only tweezers to tame a few loose hairs. He has a beautiful story to share of living a creative life, through ups and downs, when creative work demands compete for time and space with personal creativity. It’s a story with subtle lessons worthy of steeping into our souls.

Create Challenge #31: Mike Loretto

I.

I stepped out of the van that had shuttled me from the Albuquerque airport to the campus of St. John’s College in Santa Fe. It was raining. Hard. In the desert. (“Monsoon season,” the shuttle driver explained). I prayed that my guitar case was waterproof enough to protect its contents. It was late – after midnight. I was late – I had already missed the opening evening of the workshop. I was tired. I was wet.

I checked in and was directed toward my dorm room – across campus. Still raining.  Harder.

I ducked out of the rain and into the lobby of Jones Hall and did my best impression of our beloved pit bull mix, Bristow, with a full body, moisture-flinging shake. Then I realized that several other conference attendees were gathered in the lobby and the stairwell of the dorm, getting to know each other, laughing, and now looking with pity on my dripping, bedraggled self.

“Once you get your stuff in your room, come back and join us if you want!” one of them offered. I mumbled a “Thanks,” flashed as much of a smile as I could muster, and found my room.

I dropped my stuff, toweled off, and considered collapsing into bed. But no, I was here – might as well get started on being open to whatever was in store for the week.

When I reappeared, someone made room on the stairs. Someone else offered me a plastic cup of good whiskey. And a poet, a food critic, a pastor, a filmmaker, and a writer of fiction immediately started getting to know me and letting me get to know them. I was soaked, in the desert, and exactly where I needed to be.

Koi pond at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, NM

Koi pond at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, NM

II.

I was in the 8th week of a 9-week sabbatical from my job as the “Minister of Music & Worship” (or “music guy”) at a Presbyterian church. And I was a little bit desperate.

Now, understand: I’m hesitant to even say this because, well, who wants to hear anyone complain about their sabbatical?!  (“Oh, your summer of being paid not to work didn’t go exactly like you hoped? I’M SO SORRY!”)

Nevertheless – I went into it with a certain set of hopes and plans and expectations. And up to that point, most of those had been dashed. The place we were going to stay for free all summer didn’t work out. Unexpected expenses arose one after another. (Car repairs! A speeding ticket! Vet bills! More car repairs!)

Rather than being able to focus on reflection, contemplation, creativity, exercise, and nurturing my marriage to Sarah, I was spending too much time and energy figuring out where we were going to stay next, how much that would cost, and…I was frustrated. There had certainly been some highlights, but both Sarah and I were feeling at least as drained as refreshed. Brief moments of renewed relational connection and intimacy were in danger of being superseded by stress and frustration.

And here in week 8, sabbatical was almost done. It felt like sand slipping through my fingers.

My Instagram photo showed what sabbatical was supposed to be like

My Instagram photo showed what sabbatical was supposed to be like

III.

Selflessly, even though she couldn’t go, Sarah had suggested I register at the very last minute for the Glen Workshop. An ecumenical gathering of those interested in the intersection of “art, faith, and mystery,” the Glen had been a transformative experience for both Sarah and me three years ago when we took the songwriting workshop led by our favorite musical duo, Over the Rhine.

That previous experience had reminded me that I have a deep-seated NEED to create. It’s a central part of how I’m wired, and if I’m not being intentional about creating, I’m not being who I’m meant to be.

My main mode of creation is songwriting. (Sarah and I both write, record, and occasionally perform and share songs under the name Truesdell.) I’ve dabbled in some poetry, some blogging, some other forms of writing. But a well-crafted song, to me, feels like the intersection of heaven and earth.

And isn’t that what creation is: heaven touching, forming, and re-forming the physical? The Divine incarnating itself?

Back to the Glen Workshop: as the songwriting workshop was full, I signed up for the “retreat option.” I had mornings free to read, write, pray. In the afternoons and evenings I heard readings from poets, essayists, and novelists. I saw a documentary film presented by the director. I heard photographers and painters and sculptors talk about their work. So much amazing creation I couldn’t possibly take it all in. I just had to assume a receptive posture, letting it wash over me, and pay attention to how the Spirit was creating new life in me through the creativity of these artists.

IV.

In my church role, a big chunk of the creating I do (along with our pastors) is the content and flow of the weekly worship service. I’m primarily responsible for the music part, but also for helping craft a movement to the whole thing.

Hopefully each week there’s an arc to a service that helps us celebrate who we understand God to be, confess honestly our need for redemption, give thanks for the healing we find, come into conversation with the ancient stories and truths of Scripture, and respond to what we’re hearing. It’s an incredibly fulfilling (and, I believe, important) creative endeavor, and I feel privileged to get to be a creator in my professional life in a way that seems valuable to me, to my community, and to the world.

One of the gifts of my sabbatical, however, was the time away from that privilege.

Let me explain. Often, only certain forms of creative expression (usually music, preaching, some forms of visual art, maybe poetry, and rarely dance, drama, or film) find their way into worship services. And generally only certain themes can be explored within those modes and still be useful or appropriate in the context of a church worship service.

I enjoy writing and arranging church music. But if everything I’m creating is for the purpose of being used in services, then I’m rarely or never creating just for the sake of being creative, just to celebrate that I’m a creator made in the image of a creative God. And if I’m always writing about the themes that are most useful in a worship service – songs meant for congregational singing, that explicitly mention God or Jesus – then I’m ignoring entire rich fields of (also inherently spiritual) subject matter.

Sometimes those non-churchy things are the depths I need to mine creatively in order to be a healthier person and, perhaps ironically, more spiritually attuned. And if my role at church has scratched just enough of my creative itch that I don’t write songs about marriage or politics or nature or sex or what-have-you – and if God is leading me to explore those areas – then I’m not living out my calling as a creator.

I believe all good art is inherently redemptive, even if it’s not explicitly talking about how – theologically – redemption comes about. Sometimes the redemption comes through writing about ugly, painful things, not tying up loose ends in a nice bow, just painting the mess as honestly as possible – then sharing it and having someone say, “Yeah… me, too.”

Sabbatical gave me a chance to focus more on finding God and redemption and beauty in the minutiae and mess of my daily life – and to write about it.

V.

On Thursday night at the Glen Workshop, a guy named Jeff issued an open invitation to gather in an apartment on campus and share our work with one another. That evening turned into the highlight of the week – of my summer, really.

I sat on the floor and sipped wine and listened to 8-10 minutes of work from probably 25 other creators. I heard the voice of God speaking through conservative evangelical memoirists, Catholic poets, agnostic novelists, and progressive Christian essayists. It was amazing to hear the breadth of ways that diverse people can communicate beauty and truth. And then I got to add my voice to the chorus.

I played two of my songs – one that I’d written at the Glen Workshop three years ago, and one that I’d started earlier in the summer and finished that week. Both dealt with the struggle of sharing your life with another person. (I’m sure your marriage/relationship is easy, but Sarah and I have found that it’s also a constant exercise in dying to yourself, which isn’t always fun!)

Neither were songs I would play in church. But it was an incredibly worshipful experience to share them with this group. These creators, who had been feeding my soul with their work, were nodding, smiling, (even crying?) – RESONATING with what I was expressing, and in that moment I knew on a deep level that I wasn’t alone, and that my life, my struggles, and the work that comes out of them are part of a larger story that connects us all.

Here’s the older of the songs I played, written after visiting Lexington, Massachusetts, site of the first battle of the American Revolutionary War. Sarah and I were in a season of, let’s say, stumbling over each other more than building each other up. It’s just a demo, not a professional recording, so excuse the quality:

VI.

Experiencing that living room floor, those people, that beauty, that Thursday evening…if that was all that I got out of my sabbatical, it would have been enough. It led to a new passion, a new sense of direction for me.

I crave the sort of collaboration and encouragement between artists that I experienced that night, and I crave the sense of God being alive and present and active that it brings for me. So (somewhat selfishly!) I’m determined to do whatever I can to help create that sort of space in my locale (the East Bay).

I’m in the beginning stages of organizing an Artists’ Collective, in which anyone who creates has a regular space to share their work, be inspired by the creativity of others, and to reflect together on how our creativity fits into the larger creativity of God. If you’re in my area and interested in an experience like that, I’d love to hear from you and be in creative community with you!

mloretto

Mike Loretto (@mikeloretto on Twitter/IG) is a songwriter, worship leader, husband to Sarah, and feeder of dogs Bristow and Jed Bartlet. He and Sarah write and perform music under the name Truesdell and are hoping to release an album this year. (Find Truesdell on Facebook or @truesdellmusic on Twitter). Mike is passionate about the intersection of art & spirituality, contemplative prayer, good food & drink, Kansas Jayhawks basketball, and Kansas City Royals baseball. He almost never blogs at mikeloretto.tumblr.com. Email: mikeloretto at gmail dot com