Tuesday, August 17, 2010

of manna and quails (a jolly good fallow)

A few months ago, in the midst of a difficult and anxious time, I blogged about feeling "unproductive," and sensing a need for some kind of "sabbatical" - some kind of "fallow" time. Coming to the end of a period of 7 years where my "SmallTall Music" ministry has been my full-time (or, as I like to put it, "flexible full-time") employment, I had the sense that perhaps some kind of "sabbatical" time was overdue. I found myself anxious, particularly anxious about finances, and this sense of anxiety was beginning to impact me and my family in other ways as well.

Well, I didn't do anything particularly dramatic. I didn't take an extended "sabbatical" time and travel anywhere, or take a break from work, or make plans for any kind of ambitious "sabbatical" agenda (is "ambitious sabbatical agenda" a contradiction in terms?).

But I did consciously choose to make a few changes. And I can tell you that I'm at a "different place" now than I was a few months ago. And I do think those things are - at least in part - related.

First of all, I decided not to push so hard. Economic anxieties had me pushing and pushing and pushing, looking for gigs, planning tours, working hard to make contacts and "get out there" and sing my songs. Now don't get me wrong - working hard is not a bad thing. I believe I am called, in fact, to work hard at this ministry. But I began to wonder if my "pushing" had to do with a desire to engage in meaningful and effective ministry ("building up the body of Christ by creating and sharing songs of faith for small and tall"), or if it had more to do with anxiety about paying the bills. I had some suspicions about which way it was going, and I wasn't very happy about it.

So I decided to stop pushing for a while. I decided to take a break from tour planning. This meant accepting that there would not be a fall USA tour, since work visa/immigration requirements are such that the visa application has to be submitted 90-120 days in advance. I decided that I'd wait until 2011 for the next tour in the USA.

At one level, this felt like a relief. After an extended season of performing in the USA, I wouldn't have to push so hard, so fast, to make another tour possible. I could relax a little bit.

At another level, this left me with some significant questions and uncertainty. That fall schedule was looking awfully empty. Would the calls come? Would there be manna again in the morning? Would the quails fly in again on the evening breeze? Really?

Well, wouldn't you know it, a couple of weeks after making this decision, I received a phone call with a performance invitation in Winnipeg... for the fall... precisely the kind of call, and event, that can often serve as a starting point and an "anchor" for planning other things around it.

And a couple of days later an e-mail arrived with an invitation to lead worship at a retreat in Laurelville, Pennsylvania... at the end of February 2011... a perfect time to begin a USA tour, and a good "anchor" event for beginning the work visa/immigration process and tour planning for a spring USA tour.

I stopped pushing, I let go, I made the conscious (though difficult) choice to take a period of "rest" and resist trying to stack up the manna in a barn... and, sure enough, more manna appeared, and the quails flew in... (here's the fall schedule, which I think is looking really good)... and it wasn't the result of my hard-driving efforts. It was (is) a gift. Thank you, God.

That's one choice I made - the choice to "rest" and not push so hard, for a time, in pursuing gigs and tour possibilities.

The other choice I made was to enter into a "fallow" period in terms of songwriting. Rather than working at new songs (and there are plenty on the "to do" list), I chose to spend more time just "playing" and having fun with my guitar. Specifically, I spent time exploring a new tuning (DADGAD) - something I've wanted to do for a long time - and learning a bunch of instrumental pieces. I don't know if any of this is particularly "practical" or "useful" for my music ministry... learning a new tuning is a lot like learning a new language, a new grammar and vocabulary, and I expect it will be a long time before (if) I become "fluent" enough in this new language to be using it in my own writing...

But that's not really the point. Who knows? In any case, it's been fun to focus on learning new things, training the fingers to move in different ways, in different patterns... internalizing some different progressions, different rhythms, and accessing and expressing some familiar ones in different ways...

Again... sounds a lot like a "sabbatical" - like the "desert curriculum" of manna and quails - doesn't it? Needing to practice and internalize new (old) rhythms and patterns... learning to become "fluent" in a different kind of grammar...

Interestingly enough, this "consciously-chosen-fallow" time for me has also coincided with some significant developments in my wife's vocational journey. I mentioned in that earlier blog post that I've been "Walking with my spouse on her own "in-between" journey of seeking employment and career-wonderings..." During the last few months more clarity has emerged on that journey - Julie is now embarking on her own venture as a self-employed, musical person - she will be teaching piano as a certified teacher of the "Simply Music" method.

We are excited about this new venture, and it is exciting to see how Julie - and our family - has been energized through this process.

It's been a good summer. Can we face uncertainty without being crippled by anxiety? Will the manna and quails keep showing up? I think we're learning to trust, a little more each day. Thanks be to God.