What is a vacation?

Frequently, it seems “vacation” is just another opportunity to explore different ways of filling one’s time. Vacations are often taken as a chance to accumulate different experiences rushing around in an attempt to find unusual stimulation and entertaining activities.

But the word vacation comes from the Latin vacare, “to be empty.” In addition to vacation, vacare has given the English language: vacant, vacate, vacuus and vacuum.

So a vacation is intended to be an emptying out time.

In the Gospel of Luke Jesus is seen to

withdraw to deserted places and pray. (Luke 5:16)

The word “deserted places” is eremos. It means solitary, lonely, desolate, uninhabited places.  Eremos does not bear much resemblance to many of the places we tend to frequent on “vacation.” Eremos is a place where there is not much to do.

The most common question I hear as my vacation approaches is, “What are you going to do on your vacation?” I do not always have a good answer. “Nothing” is not quite true and seems to be slightly lacking in imagination. I feel guilty that I don’t have big plans for my “emptying out time.”  But, frequently, as “vacation” time roles around, I do not feel like making elaborate plans about how to fill up the emptying out days of my holiday.

Now there’s another interesting word to describe days away from the routines of work.

What is a “holiday”?

Originally a “holiday” was a “holy day,” a day set apart for particular spiritual discipline or practice. A holiday was a time to explore more deeply the inner life of the spirit, a time to grow in awareness of the divine mystery at the heart of all creation. A holiday originally offered an opportunity to become more responsive to the slower more subtle rhythms of the Spirit at work in all of life.

“Holiday” and “vacation” go together. In order to be attuned to the “holy” it is necessary to step aside for a time from the busyness and clutter of routine life.

The pace at which we live much of our lives is insane. Rushing from one important activity to the next, we condemn ourselves to skimming the surface of life. Superficiality is the psychosis of our culture. We are starving for depth.

The deep is accessed through stillness and silence.

A holiday/vacation is intended to be a time when we stop. It offers a chance of open to the more subtle rhythms of the Spirit that are so often drowned out by the clamour and stimulation we pursue in the frenetic pattern of our routine lives.

The Psalmist sets a more life-giving agenda for vacation when he writes,

I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me. (Psalm 131:2)

A “weaned child” is a child who is no longer dependent upon a mother’s milk. The “weaned child” is content simply with the presence of his mother. He rests in the awareness of his mother’s closeness.

Jesus said,

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

“Rest” is the vacation place. It is the place where I withdraw from activity, where I stop and enter into the stillness that is God’s presence.

Jesus called his followers to

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.(Mark 6:31)

This is the call to a true vacation. It is the place we step aside from work in the confidence that we will return to our routine life with a deepened awareness of our connection to the holy, to live with a renewed sensitivity to the Divine.

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update: I was just informed that the root of the word “school” is the Greek word skhole  which means: “spare time, leisure, rest ease, idleness.”  Ponder that for a while – could it be that real learning/wisdom might come from “spare time, leisure, rest, ease, idleness”?

thanks for this Cynthia Bourgeault, via Liz, via Heather.

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