From May to August of this year, CCS program staff member Ted Dodd was on a three month sabbatical leave. He found that it allowed a set of “fruitful balances”: vista expanding travel and grounding home time, studious learning and spiritual stillness, community networking and introverted personal attention. Here is Ted’s report on his sabbatical, broken into four themes: Diakonia, Travel, Art, and Sabbath & Spirituality…
During this period, my sense of diaconal vocation was both broadened and deepened. Starting with the United Church Diaconal biennial national gathering in Nova Scotia, I once again connected with my community.
After the Maritimes, I also visited the Lutheran Deaconess Community in Valpariso, Indiana. Recently, they have decided to train and include men in a separate stream. Subsequently, they have invited me, as ecumenical guest, to their annual retreat for their new program for deacons.
A week long World DIAKONIA meeting in Berlin profoundly enhanced and expanded my identity as a diaconal minister. The week following the conference I toured Western Germany which took me to several diaconal motherhouses. As well, the impressive on-going ministries of these sister and brotherhoods impressively embody a vast variety of ministries and enterprises.
Conversation with fellow participants on the tour afforded further insights to the history and ethos of the diaconate in the Church of Scotland, and the Deaconess Communities of the American Lutherans and Methodists.
Much of my historical research and reading also centered on the story of the German restoration of the diaconate in the nineteenth century. As well, I was able to dig more deeply into the diaconal history of King Wenceslas and Ludmila (during a visit to Prague), Hildegard of Bingen (through a stimulating lecture at the Berlin conference), and the Beguines (while on a side trip to Bruges). Furthermore, the more recent history of the Third Reich and the Post-War Occupations, and its impact on the diaconal communities, contained a compelling fascination for me.
Diaconal expression across the globe and throughout history varies extensively; this diversity lends a definite vitality and vibrancy to this ministry. Yet, despite the differences, a sense of commonality exists that brings a sense of heart-warming kinship to the community. The breadth of activities and work represented in the ministries demonstrates a deeply committed vision of service and an inspiring level of faith. The diaconal focus of my sabbatical will unquestionably benefit my teaching through the sharing of these experiences with students.
I love travel. At the beginning of the sabbatical, I was able to include a three week trip from the Maritimes to Boston to New York City to Chicago. And later, I journeyed for five weeks throughout Europe: from Brussels to Amsterdam to Vienna to Prague to Berlin to Western Germany. I get excited by the sense of adventure that comes from entering the unknown and immersing myself in new places and cultures. While extremely fun, these experiences also presented challenge and stretch through dislocation and exposure to difference, through learning and intellectual stimulation, through broadening of awareness and cultural diversity. The connections made, and friendships gained, on these trips added a valuable sense of global relationship and association.
These travels, and time at home, afforded me the opportunity to indulge my passion for art. In some of the greatest museums and galleries in the world, I was able to view a range of art history that opened my soul in new ways.
Art can allow one to see with fresh eyes the beauty and wonder of the earth. Looking at Vermeer’s milkmaid or Mary Pratt’s kitchen fish, helps one to perceive, again, the extraordinary in the ordinary.
These observations can lead to revelation. Biblical stories get poignantly explored in Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Mystic spirituality is discussed in Kandinsky, Chagall, and Christo’s works.
Artists juxtapose themes and subjects in ways that turn things around. Frieda Kahlo contrasts joy and suffering. Colville points toward the existential mysteries in war and everyday life. Georgia O’Keefe holds up life and death.
Moreover, the artist can expose the injustices and shortcomings of the world in prophetic protest. David paints the assassination of a hero of the revolution. Jasper Johns invites us to re-consider our cultural icons. Yoko Ono asks us to participate in mending the world.
I hope to find ways to further include these kinds of visual elements in our curriculum and program.
Sabbath and Spirituality
This sabbatical time also meant that I had a very welcome time and space just for me. I was able to enjoy the pleasures of hearth and home, making room for both entertaining and appreciating others’ company, and for individual pursuits and recreation. I was restored by this rest and renewal.
From the beginning of the sabbatical, the chance for introversion and contemplation was started by a silent retreat at the monastery of Saint John the Evangelist in Massachusetts. Throughout the time at DUCC, the World DIAKONIA assembly and in the post-event tour I was delighted to participate in regular public worship several times a day. Throughout the sabbatical, times of stillness and prayer enhanced my spiritual disciplines. An aspect of study and scholarship carries for me a sense of the sacred so I felt the holy in the midst of that engagement. I did manage to find some time for creativity in visual art and poetry writing which feeds my soul and grounds my spirit.
I appreciate deeply the opportunity of this sabbatical leave. I understand the costs of such a privilege on staff colleagues and strained institutional budgets. So I am grateful for the gift of this time and space. I think the three months enabled me to meet my study goals and to address my hopes for a break. As a long term employee I believe this leave has invigorated my spirit personally, and professionally equipped me in new ways for my teaching vocation. I feel very blessed.
August 5, 2013