It has been a while since I last wrote. Much has happened (not least the tour I mentioned in the last entry), indeed too much to adequately share. Many of my friends will have received an ominous e-mail a few months ago entitled “Life Update”. In that e-mail, I detailed a few of my current struggles, and elaborated a plan to take a bit of a sabbatical from work and life in California.

A brief summary of the reasons for such a decision: Primarily, my computer-centric lifestyle (both work and play) over the past few years contributed to a gradually worsening set of repetitive stress injuries in my arms and hands, such that when November rolled around, I was experiencing pain at all times, not just when using computers. Conversations with various specialists enlightened me as to the potential long-term damage of exacerbating my condition, and I decided to wrap up my current obligations and take 3-4 months away.

Another important factor in my decision was my spiritual life, which for a number of reasons I believed would benefit from a time of listening to God and posing certain questions to him, in an environment different than my normal, Palo Alto one.

With help from others, I thought long and hard about how best to pursue a sabbatical for several months, and settled on a 3-part journey. First, I decided to go on tour with my friends The New Frontiers (with whom I went to high school) and Manchester Orchestra. Sadly, this leg of the journey is already complete! For about 3 weeks, I slept on floors and lived in a van with these guys, playing a show almost every night, eating on $5 a day, and generally having an incredible time. The telling of the experiences we had warrants a book, not a weblog entry, so I’ll pass on any further detail here. Suffice it to say, I had a genuinely life-changing trip, enjoyed hanging out with my companions, and received many questions to ponder during the subsequent portions of the sabbatical.

I was able to play a few shows on tour; this is the 585 in Atlanta

In the middle of January, I flew back to Florida for just three days, attended a friend’s wedding, and packed for the remainder of my journey. Then, I flew to Austria, and made my way to the small town of Mittersill, where I’m spending about 6 weeks at a place called Schloss Mittersill (Castle Mittersill). There is a small Christian community living here that lets students or people on sabbatical come to study, think, rest, etc… It seemed to be an ideal place for me to dig into some of the spiritual questions and issues I had raised, and it has proven to be that so far.

For the last few weeks, I’ve spent virtually all my time at the Schloss, getting to know the house team, students, and other workers and inhabitants. Without exception these people have been wonderfully inviting, and I found myself welcomed very quickly into the life rhythm of this place. After adjusting to the time and learning how to get from one place in the Schloss to another, I began to meet with a certain couple who are acting as my “sabbatical liaisons” (really, counselors) during my time here. Since then, I’ve been sharing my story with them, and putting together a plan for how best to heal physically and also make use of this time to seek God. I’ll probably have, for example, a sort of retreat-within-retreat next week for a couple days, in solitude from the rest of the group here.

Most of my time, however, has so far been spent in the Schloss library, or hanging out with people by a fire and talking into the evening, or taking advantage of the incredible alpine environment and going for long walks in the snowy hills (I hope to be able to do a bit of snowboarding at nearby Pass Thurn or Kitzbühel if I can find some gear). I’ve been reading ferociously, catching up on (what seems like) years of lost time, and studying German, Greek, Hebrew, and Swahili. We’ll see how much any of that sticks, but I have been enjoying delving into these pursuits that I rarely have time for. What’s more, there’s been the opportunity for creative endeavors as well–they have a few pianos here, so I’ve been writing some music, as well as working on a short novel that has been under construction for over a year now.

A winter scene from one of my walks near the Schloss

In short, between the amazing community, the study, nature, and the hilarious attempts to practice yoga in my tiny room (we have my sister to thank for that), the time has been incredibly useful to me already. Now that I have gotten a feel for life here, and had a chance to enjoy many of the academic or creative pursuits I love, I hope to move forward into a time of serious waiting on and listening to God, and hopefully come to some resolutions on the spiritual purposes for this sabbatical, on how I should be spending and directing my energies in the coming months and years, and on who I am as an individual in his Kingdom.

I also hope to spend even less time on my computer than I have been, thus to be more confident of my physical healing. I will probably, for example, refrain from e-mail as much as possible, though I would certainly rather be talking to you than not!

Well, so much for an update. I also need to mention that, at the outset of my trip to Austria, I was very fearful that things would not come together financially for these international travels. Obviously, the combination of travel and not working is a bit of an expensive worry. However, it soon became clear that my fears were misplaced! In an amazing display of generosity that left me literally shaken, I was supported by many friends and family, who also, it seems, saw the importance in this move for me. The fact that so many would gather around me in assistance at a time like this, when I truly needed it, is to me an incredible testimony of God’s faithfulness through their love. While not everything is taken care of, I have certainly been humbled by this experience, enough to finally heed Jesus’ words about not worrying about tomorrow’s troubles. For now, my focus is on what I am doing and trying to discern God’s voice in the middle of it.

I am sure that the remainder of my time at the Schloss will be excellent. But that only accounts for 2 out of 3 parts of this sabbatical! Looking ahead to part 3, I’m going to be leaving Austria for Kenya in early March. There is an orphanage outside of Nairobi a ways that I will be staying at, and volunteering at for about 3 weeks (along with a few friends from Stanford). I can’t say much more about this leg as yet, since some details still need to be firmed up. I am certain it will be an amazing time nonetheless, and a completely different experience than the one here in Austria. My hope is that I will be able to be of some service to the children and staff there, however small. We will see; and I’ll be certain to write about those experiences later on.

That is it for now; I have had a virtually limitless number of ideas for other weblog entries, whether theological or philosophical or poetic or what have you, but in an effort to stay off the keyboard, I’ve refrained from writing them down. Alas! Well, goodbye for now, and if you’d like to say hello in an e-mail, please don’t hesitate; I’ll respond as quickly as I can!

By Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan worked as a programmer in tech startups for several decades, but is also passionate about all kinds of creative pursuits and academic discussion. Jonathan has master’s degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively, and is working on another in theology. An American-Canadian, he lives in Vancouver, BC and has way too many hobbies.

8 replies on “Sabbatical”

Lipps, great update! I hope your novel involves talking beasts, wizardry, and the like. Sorry to have missed your shows in SC at new years!

Jonathan! Great to hear from you. I’m so glad that you are finding some time to rest and enjoy creative activities. We surely miss you. I so much look forward to hearing more about your travels and where you sense the Lord leading you next.

thanks for the update Lipps…it is so wierd that you are in another land far away right now..and by wierd I mean awesome. but we miss you here and it is fun to picture where you are. I have no idea or frame of reference for what it is like. we are praying for you.

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