Source: The Pueblo Chieftain Online
As I neared the end of my first year of parish ministry, all I could think about was a trip down the Oregon coast, a hike around Mount Rainier, or a stroll through Seattle’s Pike Place Market.
In my frenzied enthusiasm, I asked a brother priest where he planned to spend his vacation.
“I don’t have time for vacations,” he sneered, meeting my smile with a complete absence of expression.
I never knew what it meant to crave a vacation until I actually started working. I thought I had it tough as a student, but academia was a cakewalk compared to the real world.
Some may think priests only work on Sundays. If only they knew.
I felt, momentarily, like the world’s biggest slacker. A priest looking forward to two Sundays away from his parish – was there something deficient in my calling?
I left town feeling conflicted. All ambiguity disappeared, however, when I returned to my parish restored and refreshed – a human being again.
Without the benefit of that vacation, I would have been no good to anyone.
We all need breaks. Even God rested after completing his creation – not because he was tired, but to show us the importance of taking time to rest and admire his work.
And because he recognized our impulse to be workaholics, he made the Sabbath day mandatory on pain of death! If we take a critical look at what a vacation has come to entail, however, it’s easy to understand why we resist such diversions.
The root of “vacation” is vacare (to be empty), an apt character summary of the modern phenomenon. Road rage toward construction crews, other drivers and even forces of nature, irritation toward our screaming children, or (if we fly) toward surly and hostile airport security personnel – these burdens of modern transport mean that by the time we actually get to our destination, we’ve already squandered what little peace of mind we had left.
Once we arrive, we medicate ourselves with a toxic brew of gluttony and margaritas. We snarl at the service staff. And then there’s television, my personal demon. Do I really drive two days so I can lie in a hotel bed and watch the Travel Channel?
Thus passes the surreal, postmodern vacation, an event that lives up to its namesake: emptiness.
The time has come to repudiate such an abomination. We need periods of rest, but not vacations. What we need are sabbaticals.
The term sabbatical, though based on the biblical Sabbath, is now confined almost exclusively to the realm of academia. It refers to a semester or two away from teaching a normal class load.
This doesn’t mean the professor goes to Vegas. They may still teach, perhaps abroad. The point is that they rest, gain a renewed perspective, and return to their vocation with freshness and vitality. This is something we all could use.
Why don’t you skip the vacation this summer, and take a sabbatical instead? One of the most restful sabbatical experiences of my life was a recent camping trip with my family. We spent two days at a Rio Grande National Forest campground called Big Meadow, near Wolf Creek Pass.
Were I ever to attempt to prove the existence of God to a skeptic, I could think of no better evidence than such a magnificent, natural setting.
Wind rustling through leaves and pebbles crashing down a streambed are nature’s Byzantine chant. We have only to be silent enough to hear it.
This is why I remind parishioners before traveling to pack an ingredient essential to a proper holiday: their prayers. I tell them to set up an icon in their hotel room, because without a prayerful spirit, vacations only amount to more busywork.
A true sabbatical is not about where we go or what we do. It is about who we become.
May your next sabbatical be blessed!