By Emily Cavins
Who would have thought that I would have been handed a three-month (and counting) sabbatical? Most often, when someone is offered the luxury of time off, a lot of planning goes into where to go, what sort of retreat center or spa or a foreign country will be best.
I have a dear friend, Dr. Jennifer Miller, who teaches moral theology at the Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. She ventured out for a 6-month sabbatical to do research for her book on gender identity by interviewing women from all around the world. The topic is so intriguing, and I was excited to link her up with women in the Holy Land, who could give their perspectives. Over the past few months, she spoke with my husband Jeff and me from different locations around the world on FaceTime.
First, from India, next from Israel. Bethlehem was hit hard by the Coronavirus and was shut down, just as she was to interview several women there. Then, when the country of Italy was deep in the throes of the Coronavirus, Jennifer texted that she may be heading to Italy. After a few days, she managed to get a flight into Paris, just as France went into lockdown. With no complaint, she found herself cozily stranded in an attic in Paris where she could begin to write her book. Somehow, she managed to get 49 interviews from nine different cultures and hopes to get more before she returns back to the US. That is a sabbatical like no other!
However, for most of us, the decision of the location for our Covid-19 time-off was made for us—retreat at home. No plans – just a sudden halt while at the same time, we were jolted into the unknown.
My sabbatical is so much different than Jennifer’s, but what I have had to keep learning throughout my time-off is exactly what the Gospel says to us in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus calls us with comfort. “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” That sounds like the perfect sabbatical! Resting in the arms of our Savior!
Jesus has to keep calling and reminding us of that, while we frantically search the stores for toilet paper or for a pork chop. The contrast is stark between his loving invitation and the doom and gloom that goes on continuously on network television. I choose to listen to the gentle voice of Jesus.
During our forced sabbaticals, we do have the opportunity to put new ways into our schedules. These are the things we have been meaning to do all along. Take time each morning to meditate on the goodness of God. Share love with your small circle of loved ones who you can touch and hug. Remember that human relationships are more valuable than anything else, so do what you can to keep connected.
Now we can find a time each day to pray the rosary with online groups, our family, or in the silence of our room. We can focus on the loving grace of God that makes our burdens feel lighter. For a while, there was a popular gift item called the “worry box”, which could sit on the counter, and when you were anxious about something, you symbolically put the worry into the box. Just imagine Jesus taking each burden and exchanging it for his peace, for his rest.
Even without a lot of thought, we have had time to reevaluate what is important. I haven’t had a haircut in months! I guess I can last more than 5 weeks between cuts. I haven’t eaten at a restaurant in what seems like forever! I suppose I can cook tasty meals at home. I haven’t driven more than 20 miles this week! Perhaps I can focus on my neighborhood. We are whittling it all down to see that our relationship with Jesus is what is most important.
As we emerge from our quarantine, we can embrace a renewed relationship with Jesus and continue to trust him. If we can trust him through a pandemic, we have certainly learned to trust. I am praying that is what I learn during this time. Most of what my husband and I do involves traveling. Ironically, just before the first case of Covid-19 hit the US, I was standing in my kitchen thinking, “Can life get any better? We just spent a month in the Holy Land on pilgrimage with hundreds of excited people. What a privilege!” And within a month of that musing, all of our travel plans have unraveled, and no one knows for sure when the travel industry will get back up and running. Now is the time to trust if there ever was a time. Jesus, I trust in You!
About the author:
Emily Cavins received her BA in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology from the University of Minnesota and has participated in several excavations in Israel. She is a tour leader of annual pilgrimages to Israel and other Bible-related destinations with husband Jeff Cavins. Follow Emily on Facebook or at Catholic Family Night.