We arrived Wednesday night, exhausted and disoriented, at our temporary home in Wales, and awoke Thursday morning to a panorama of jaw-dropping beauty: a paradise of woods and streams and patchwork fields rolling down deep folds of hills. In the pasture above us a half-dozen horses, muddy and shaggy in their winter coats, nicker and clomp, and all around us sheep, waddling fat in their winter wool, bleat and graze. The house looks down upon a valley, vibrantly green and cut by the silvery currents of the Teifi river, and across to the tidy tiny village of Pentre-Cwrt. It's as if we've been transported into a rustic shire somewhere in Middle-Earth, and any moment Gandalf will rap on the door with urgent and secret business.
But I think few visitors, wizard or otherwise, venture this far. It is so rural that the house doesn't have a street address – it's simply called Murmur Teifi, named thus because one can hear from this flank of the hill, if the wind is right and the water's running high, a thin whisper of the river's voice.
It's here we'll stay for the next 4 months. The plan is for Cheryl to complete 2 of her courses toward a masters degree in Spiritual Formation, Nicola to finish her grade 11 course work online, and me to write a novel. And we will explore, and read, and ponder, and pray, and walk, and talk. We will make new friends, and visit a few old ones. We will play more board games then we have in the past decade. I will cook more meals, and wash more dishes, than I have in my lifetime. And we will become still, and quiet, and attentive.
It's a sojourn. I've always liked that word, though I think this is the first time I've ever written it. It's a good biblical word, at least in the language of the King James: that version is thick with sojourns and sojourners. Sojourn means, literally, to rest a day (just as journey means to travel a day), but more colloquially it means to stay a while. 4 months qualifies for a while.
I've travelled a lot, but never really sojourned, never really stayed a while – at most, I think, I've hunkered down 2 weeks in a single place. I've never abided elsewhere long enough for the place to feel like home, to become part of me. A sojourn is different: it's time enough to match your internal rhythms to the world you inhabit, time enough to learn some of the quirks of that world's language and gesture and ways (though Welsh is a mouthful, thick as a barley loaf, with long snarls of impossible combinations of consonants sprinkled with the occasional vowel, and I'll be lucky to pick up more than the odd word).
A sojourn is time enough to change.
I guess that's what I'm hoping. I'm hoping to change. I want to be more thoughtful and less reactionary, more prayerful and less judging. I want to see further and deeper, and be more filled with wonder and thankfulness. I want to be quicker to listen and slower to speak. I want to laugh more, and play more, and take much longer to become angry or anxious. I want to take more risks, but be less reckless. I want to soak in word and Spirit, and the company of others.
It's a bit embarrassing that I need 4 months and a refuge in the Welsh hillsides to accomplish this, and perhaps I don't. But it's what I've been given – a fact I'm deeply grateful for – and so be it.
Sojourns are rare these days. I embrace this one with joy and thanks, and resolve to make the most of it.