Contemplative Life

SOUNDINGS: Soul and Brain Food from Sabbatical

SOUNDINGS” posts consider topics that are important for our society, for the Church, and for our own spiritual journeys.  To ‘take a sounding’ is a nautical term about using depth to determine where you are and where you’re going.  These writings are designed to do just that.  Please share this post with friends you think might appreciate it.  If you would like to get SOUNDINGS posts from me sent directly to your inbox, click here.

As I wrote about here, Sabbatical was powerful and good, to put it mildly.  It was a feast for all five senses, rich food for the soul, providing plenty to stimulate the mind Initially, for my own sake, I kept a running list of various types of resources that I deeply engaged and appreciated or through which God really met me along the way.  But you might find some of these interesting as well, and maybe some would be meaningful to you too.  I’ve put asterisks next to ones I’d highly recommend for anyone at any time, ones that are particularly potent and (with the exception of Bono’s audiobook) are on the shorter side of things.

A couple of comments first:

Some of these (mostly dead) people became real companions over Sabbatical, notably Will Campbell, Christophe Lebreton, Catherine of Siena, and Bono, and in a lesser way but still meaningfully Nikos Kazantzakis and Leonard Cohen.

Early on in this time of rest, having begun to encounter God very powerfully, I started keeping a Spotify playlist of “Sabbatical Songs” that spoke to me deeply for one reason or another either in the lyrics or music or both, music which led me to Presence and/or memories of place.  I wonder if any of these songs are dear to you too, and I’m late to your party?  Reach out if so, I’d love to know what you like about it.

Speaking of being late to the party, at the beginning of Sabbatical I finally started watching “The Chosen” and watched it carefully and prayerfully with God and a journal as a way of observing Jesus, at least one interpretation of him.  I loved it, and found it very moving, mostly because I find Jesus very moving and I think the writers of the show did a really good job of capturing aspects of him that are both true and often unconsidered.

Out in nature and wondering what you’re looking at?  The app “Seek” is amazing and will change how you hike, walk in a park, or ponder your own backyard.


**“Seek” by iNaturalist – Google Play, App Store
“Merlin Bird ID” – Google Play, App Store
“AllTrails” – Google Play, App Store


**“Appreciating Will Campbell: ‘Preacher to the Damned’” – Frye Gaillard, The Progressive
**“The Book of Nature and the Book of the Word” –
“St. Catherine of Siena: To Love the Church is to Long for Her Renewal” – Guy Bedouelle, Church Life Journal
“Caught in the Middle” – Wendell Berry in Our Only World: Ten Essays
“Evelyn Underhill: More Than a Beacon or Bridge: An Artist” – Bishop Robert Morneau
And more articles about Evelyn Underhill from here
**“What is the Church?” – Peter Kreeft,
“Why I Still Go to Church on Sundays” – Katelyn Beaty


**Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story -Bono


The Gospel of John, God with John
A Guide to BirdingJoseph Forshaw et al
Ancient Greece: An Illustrated History – Nigel Rodgers
Answering the Contemplative Call: First Steps on the Mystical Path – Carl McColman
The Book of Nature: The Astonishing Beauty of God’s First Sacred Text – Barbara Mahamy
Born from the Gaze of God: The Tibhirine Journal of a Martyr Monk (1993-1996) – Christophe Lebreton
Brothers of the Desert: The Story of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert – Mari Grana
**Catherine of Siena: Passion for the Truth–Compassion for Humanity – Mary O’Driscoll
Catherine of Siena – Sigrid Undset
Catherine of Siena’s Way (Way of the Christian Mystics) – Mary Ann Fatula
The Creative Act: A Way of Being – Rick Rubin
The Extraordinary Beauty of Birds: Designs, Patterns and Details – Deborah Samuel
God is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7 ½ Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth – Christopher Buckley
The Grand Inquisitor – Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Last Thing He Told Me – Laura Dave
**The Love That is God: An Invitation to Christian Faith – Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt
The Relic Master – Christopher Buckley
**The Selected Poetry of Jessica Powers
Nicomachean Ethics – Aristotle
Evelyn Underhill’s Prayer Book – Dr. Robyn Wrigley-Carr
An overview of the Roman Empire and culture
The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises – Nikos Kazantzakis
**Seeking God: Finding Another Kind of Life with St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard – Trevor Hudson
Trappist: Living in the Land of Desire – Michael Downey
The White Stone: The Art of Letting Go – Esther de Waal
The Wisdom of the Desert – Thomas Merton


Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song – Netflix
**God’s Will – The Center for Public Television’s documentary on Will D. Campbell


Barbie – still in theaters 8/2023
Oppenheimer – still in theaters 8/2023


**Bill’s Sabbatical Playlist on Spotify (and many other songs by artists on that playlist)
**What the Morning Shows album – The Dust of Men
Appalachian Spring – Copland, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra
“Fantasia in D Minor” – Mozart, performed by Fazil Say
Loud Harp Radio on Spotify
Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers and Lord Huron
Salt of the Sound Radio on Spotify
Vivaldi, Bach, & other classical sacred music


Typology – “Bittersweet State of Mind feat. bestselling author Susan Cain”


60 Minutes (Rick Rubin episode) – YouTube, Paramount Plus
**The Chosen (all 3 seasons) – Angel Studios
True Detective – HBO Max (interesting but not recommended)

The Visual Arts and Architecture

We saw so much moving art work in various media in Italy, Greece, and London that it’s impossible even to make a short list.  Particularly memorable was St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums and the marble in St. Mary Major in Rome, the frescoes in the Basilica in Assisi, the art and sculpture and marble in all the churches in Italy, everything in Florence including the Uffizi Gallery, the Accademia Gallery of Florence, the Cathedral of St. Mary of Flowers/Duomo, the architecture and sculpture of the Acropolis in Athens and the monasteries of Meteora, the Archeological Museum in Heraklion, Crete, and in London the Wallace Collection and the immersive art experience of “Frameless,” which was simply amazing.


This isn’t really a resource, but in this ‘list-y’ reflection, there’s another list to add.  Before I started my sabbatical, I asked our Coracle team what they were thinking about so I could be thinking about it too, and if anyone had any words of wisdom for me upon embarking.  Wanda Bickers on our Baltimore team told me something that initially sounded strange but also (precisely because it was unexpected) interesting and oddly compelling, and I took her advice.  Thank you, Wanda!

She said, “Pay attention to the smells.”  Hmmm… “Pay attention to the smells.”  Heeding her advice meant for a fuller journey, and helps me remember that all our senses are gifts to us given by God, true gifts that we too easily forget are true gifts, and that each one can be a medium by which we can encounter that same God.

So, if my Spotify playlist is titled “Sabbatical Songs”, here are my “Sabbatical Smells”.

  • Incense in the sanctuary at Mepkin Abbey, South Carolina
  • Orange blossoms and quince at Corhaven, Virginia
  • Pine in Wyoming
  • Sage in Colorado
  • Incense in the Eucharistic chapel at St. Peter’s in Rome, at the Duomo in Florence,
  • Jasmine in Assisi, and on the Amalfi Coast, and especially Tuscany
  • Lavender in Assisi and Tuscany
  • Lemons in Amalfi
  • Sea salt on the Amalfi coast
  • Rain in Vietri sul Mar, Amalfi, and the Petrichor
  • Urine in Naples
  • Olive oil in Florence
  • Leather in Florence
  • Rosemary (and jasmine!) in Tuscany
  • Italy:  espresso/coffee, wine and negronis, cigarette smoke
  • Thyme on the hillsides of Crete
  • Brine in the saltwater and tidal pools in Crete
  • Woodsmoke from our fire in Crete
  • Cyprus and Pine at the Samaria Gorge, Crete
  • Pine and sage in New Mexico
  • Piñon incense in New Mexico
  • Incense during Mass at Christ in the Desert in New Mexico.
  • Woodsmoke at Corhaven, Virginia

And then a few insights

Throughout Sabbatical, I’d cut and paste or type up some of the quotes and insights that I didn’t want to forget, that I wanted to recall and mull over.  It too is a long list, so here are just a few.  Do any strike you with a particular power?  Let me know if so.

“We are here to inch our way toward absorbing and being absorbed into the divine, thinning the veil between heaven and earth…”  – Barbara Mahaney, The Book of Nature

“If one understands the Eucharist, one understands everything.”  – Christophe Lebreton

“‘For [mystics,] contemplation and action are not opposites, but two interdependent forms of a life that is one—a life that rushes out to a passionate communion with the true and beautiful, only that it may draw from this direct experience of Reality a new intensity wherewith to handle the world of things; and re-make it, or at least some little bit of it, ‘nearer to the heart’s desire.’  The mystic’s heart beats in union with God’s heart, so ‘the heart’s desire’ is God’s desire.”  – Evelyn Underhill

“The devout Christian of the future will either be a mystic —someone who has ‘experienced something’—or will cease to be anything at all.”  – Karl Rahner

“You look around, and you see a world that is impenetrable, that cannot be made sense of.  You either raise your fist or say ‘Hallelujah’…I try to do both.”  – Leonard Cohen

“A custom existed among the first generations of Christians, when faith was a bright fire that warmed more than those who kept it burning.  In every house then a room was kept ready for any stranger who might ask for shelter; it was even called ‘the stranger’s room.’  Not because these people thought they could trace something of someone they loved in the stranger who used it, not because the man or woman to whom they gave shelter reminded them of Christ, but because — plain and simple and stupendous fact — he or she was Christ.”  – Dorothy Day

“The world now is too dangerous and too beautiful for anything but love.”  – Black Rock Prayer Book

“In all of this, I am more convinced than ever, that the God of all tenderness descends into our ashes, walks with us in our pain, carries us in and through life’s many Crosses, and raises us up in the Joy and Hope of Resurrection, breaking the chains of injustice, and gathering us at Table in the One House of Love!  This is the Paschal Mystery!  He is Risen indeed!”  – Nate Bacon

“If you really are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.” – Catherine of Siena, Letter 368

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”  – TS Eliot

In Conclusion

I regularly sign off these reflections with a specific phrase, for this post it seems especially appropriate.

On the Journey,

Upcoming Offerings

*Please join us for our upcoming Soundings Seminar w/ Bill, as he shares more about his time on Sabbatical. We know that our God is so good and gracious and we are excited to hear more from Bill – specifically how God met him during his time away. Join us on August 24th from 12:30-1:30pm (ET). Register here.

2nd Wednesdays: Our monthly 2nd Wednesdays are a time to gather together, learn and reflect on God, culture and the world around us. This month we will gather at our ministry space in Arlington, VA and hear from Bill in a reflection titled Deep Truths & Where We Go With Them.  Register here.

Email Holly Scarberry with questions.


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