Faith & Worship: Vacation and Sabbath: Opportunities for New Life

Published 5:00 pm Wednesday, August 9, 2017

It’s vacation time. Congress is in recess. The president is away. School has been out of session. And all kinds of people have been traveling, visiting, and enjoying some kind of time away from life’s normal routines. My spouse, Mary, and I have been among them for the last few weeks, traveling to Florida to visit family. Our journey has given me a rare opportunity for reflection on the idea of vacation.

From a spiritual perspective, we know that vacations must be good. Even Jesus “got away” on occasion for rest and renewal (Mark 6:31). But what exactly is a vacation?

According to the dictionary, a vacation is “a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel.” Almost everyone has had some kind of vacation experience. What comes to your mind when you think of vacation? Maybe a special journey to an exotic land?  Or a visit to a place you’ve never seen before. Maybe the exploration of an historic site, or a national park. Or a physical journey like hiking or biking. Perhaps a visit to see friends or family who live at a distance. Or maybe a week at the beach, or a camping trip to the mountains.

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Vacations, as we usually think of the term, might be viewed as a luxury available only to those who have time off from work, or the financial means and health to travel. Some might think they need an invitation to visit friends or family, and others might not like the challenges of a “new” experience. It’s no accident that not everyone likes to go on vacation.

Vacations can take different forms. Sometimes in today’s busy world people take “stay-vacations,” times when they don’t actually go anywhere but take some time off in their home setting. Others stay because it’s too hard to travel. My late mother in law, for example, used to take vacations “on the Internet.” And I know others who have taken all kinds of exotic vacations “in their minds.”

All vacations have their challenges and their unexpected blessings. Some vacation experiences don’t even look like vacations. Like my unplanned six-week recovery from major surgery decades ago. Or a business trip that turned out to be unexpectedly playful. And then too, all vacations also include their unexpected moments, like the torrential thunderstorm that we experienced on I-75 somewhere outside of Valdosta, Ga. on our recent trip. And our unexpected stop at the Emory University Hospital for treatment while visiting family in Atlanta. And the tropical storm and lack of cell phone service we experienced for a couple of days in Florida.

Some vacations are unexpected blessings. I think for example of our recent experience of a sunrise at the beach on our trip, and the chance to visit with my Aunt Jean, from Fargo, N.D., the last of her generation alive in my family, who was in Florida on vacation with her two grown children for part of our visit. And then there was the delicious opportunity to go to a circus show with our 10-year-old granddaughter in Sarasota.

Whatever the form, a vacation is an experience that allows us to step out of the routines of life and experience something out of the ordinary that might have the potential to nourish our spirits and refresh our bodies. In the Bible, such experiences are called Sabbaths. The word Sabbath literally means “to cease doing, to rest.”

The Ten Commandments tell us that one day out of seven we should “rest from our labors,” and pause from our normal routines of work and life to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” (Leviticus 23). The Sabbath has always been a time to step aside the daily routines of work and life in order to experience the fullness of God’s grace and mercy. Barbara Brown Taylor describes Sabbath as a regular opportunity to practice “saying no” to the daily pressures and demands of life and work. It’s no accident we use the word “sabbatical” even today to describe an extended time away from work for rest and renewal. Of course, Sabbath is a lot more than a good vacation, but a good vacation may not be a bad place to begin learning Sabbath.

Both Sabbath and vacation can be opportunities to gain energy and perspective. Both can also help us experience deeper dimensions of ourselves, and a sense of God’s grace and mercy. Some Sabbath experiences involve church. Others may not seem very “churchy” at all. Good vacation experiences come in all sizes and shapes.

The message of our faith is that the God we worship can meet us anywhere, even on our vacation journeys, and in experiences that both challenge and comfort us. A vacation or a Sabbath is an opportunity to stop, look, and listen to life. And sometimes when we do stop, look, and listen, we can better hear the “voice” of God, as Moses did when he “turned aside” to take a look at the bush that was burning (Exodus 3).

So this summer whether you’re going on vacation or not, or even if you’ve already been on vacation, look and listen. Whether it’s your summer vacation or weekly Sabbath, take advantage of your opportunities to turn aside from the daily routines of life. No telling what you might see.

Pastor Dent Davis, Tryon Presbyterian Church