Kayaks, Hot Dogs and Jedi Summer Camp

Kayaks, Hot Dogs and Jedi Summer Camp 

Good morning. I should probably introduce myself. My name is Seth Dietrich. I was gone for 100 days and now I am back. You all have been in such good hands. I’m so grateful to the wardens, Beth and Randy, for running interference on so many things so I could truly step away. And I think the best testament to Mthr Kate’s leadership is this long list of newcomers. I’m really going to miss her And I know I am not alone. Next week we will have a time to celebrate her ministry and send her off. 

I wish I had the time to share about everything that happened to me and in me while I was away. I sent out a little video of in the weekly parish email. You know it was a rich time when your family gets to go paddling in BOTH the Canadian wilderness and in the fjords of Norway, the latter being the most spectacularly beautiful place I have ever been. These fjords were carved by glaciers thousands of years ago these two thousand foot canyon cliffs plunge right down into the ocean. You are protected from the wind so there might be a half-mile wide stretch of ocean and it’s still like a millpond, so that even in the midst of a rainstorm, you can see the ripples from the raindrops. And perhaps the most incredible part is that under one’s kayak, maybe not 100 yards from the canyon wall, this cold clear water plunges down to depths of 2000, 2500, even 3000 feet. 

On the whole, my sabbatical was everything I hoped it would be. We had family adventures, I was able to read, garden, cook. It is a great privilege to casually wander the wide aisles of Costco at 11am on a Thursday, no real agenda. The hotdog there are so big for so little money. I don’t know how they can offer them at such an affordable price. This was just one of the many mysteries I had time to ponder. 

In all seriousness, my time away held deep spiritual renewal for me. I now have a small stone near the chair where I pray in the morning and on that stone is etched the word rebirth. And that may not be too strong a word. I think if we are open to the Spirit it is possible to be born again and again and again throughout our lives. 

In many ways, I actually feel like I have been brought back to a place similar to when I was first called into the priesthood almost 20 years ago. At that time, I remember sitting with a college friend in our first apartment in Madison and he asked me, “Why are you becoming a priest?” I had not really presented as church leader material in college, nor in my 20’s. So he was confused. I was a bit confused, too. I was not entirely sure how to put words to what was stirring 

inside. All I knew was that I had glimpsed this Presence of love underneath all things, this deep abundance that was cold and clear and plunged all the way down. And I was bobbing in that love and everyone and everything was bobbing in it all the time. 

In his letter to the church in Rome, the ancient writer, John has a vision of God. He tries his best to convey the mystery of what he has seen and heard. He hears God say, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will freely give from the spring of the water of life” (Revelation 21:6,7). This image of Life emerging from a deep, cold spring runs throughout Holy Scripture, from the springs which watered the garden of Eden to Jesus telling a woman who has become lost in her own life, that he can offer her Living Water, from the deepest, coldest well, which is God. 

Back at that the apartment, I turned to my friend who asked why I wanted to be a priest, and said, “I don’t quite know. I just have this sense that all of reality is bathed in Christ’s love, and I want to give everything I have, everything I am, to pursue that Love, to share in it.” 

As you probably noticed, there was no mention of the institutional, organizational demands of being a parish priest: no mention of feeling called to balance church budgets and puzzle over personnel and negotiate with elevator contractors. I did not say, “I have this passion to one day create policies for renting table linens, pricing for stains, based on the size and nature of the stain.” It is a well-kept professional secret that many pastors who ride this great wave of love and desire into ministry, find themselves washed up on dry land, far from God, struggling to to sense God’s presence amidst the daily demands. I know something about that. 

Maybe you do too. Pastors are probably not much different from many of you. You are called into your vocations: teaching, medicine, parenting, and I imagine that sometimes you feel like you are immersed in deeper meaning and purpose, but then it can vanish in the midst of the stresses and chaos and small demands of daily living. Because all of that stuff has to get done. Someone has to price the stains, someone has to wake up with the sick child, someone has to practice the presentation, someone has to show up at the school board meeting or even the protest. 

But each person can not do every thing. How do we know what we are called to do? How do we let go of the rest without that constant sense of guilt? How can we live in the midst of the sometimes dry demands of institutions and stay connected to the deep, cold clear purpose of love. 

The heart of my sabbatical was a course in spirituality put on by The Shalem Institute. The Shalem Institute was founded in 1975 by an Episcopalian, a Roman Catholic and a Methodist. These people were looking to find ways of staying intimately and deeply connected to God 

amidst the inner and outer chaos of life. They turned to the ancient church, and to some other religious traditions, and they founded an Institute based on Contemplative Living. The word contempative means “in the temple” and the concept is that the whole world is God’s temple. Every moment sacred, every person is sacred, everything around us and in us, is saturated in God. 

For the course, I did a lot of reading this summer. I rediscovered old writers and I found some new writers who made my heart sing, who connected spiritual things that I had been trying to recocile for a long time. And then as a part of this course, right in the middle of the sabbatical in late July, I went to a 10 day intensive held at a retreat Center outside of Baltimore. It was led by Quakers and Catholics and Presbyterians and Episcopalians. There was a Buddhist teacher. These people had been immersed in this contemplative way for a long time, and you could just feel the quality of their presence, their open-heartedness, their embodied compassion. Really, it was kind of like going to a camp taught by Jedi knights. I learned so much about prayer, about living from the heart and not just the head, about how to breathe and pause and wait in the midst of making decisions. I learned even more about how moment to moment miindfulness is actually a gateway to Divine Presence. I re-discovered the beautiful simplicity of the Jesus prayer. 

There’s lots to share – I’m just scratching the surface. But I have spent the last month praying and pondering about what comes next. There is something new happening in me, I don’t quite know where it will lead me, where it might lead us. But I have one thought to which I keep coming back. While we spent the first ten years of my leadership, pushing outwards, expanding the membership, the programming, the staff, most recently expanding the footprint of the building. And this is all good and we want to keep pushing out. But I wonder if this next chapter is possibly, primarily about going deeper. Finding ways to live, move and have our being within this institution but also more intentionally, more explicitly in God. 

I would need help with this. I am no Jedi. I’m still learning and struggling. I swear on the third day back, still digging out of email, it was all I could do not to get in my car and drive back to the wide, quiet aisles of Costco and curl up next to the goldfish crackers. It’s so hard to stay tapped into God’s presence, moment to moment to moment. But it is possible. I have seen it. I have felt it. And by God’s grace I truly believe we could wade deeper into those waters together. 

Rev. Seth Dietrich