I have a friend from the USA staying for a few days and soon after his arrival we headed for the hills. That’s a bit metaphorical because our first days were at a small seaside town, but now we really are in the hills in the heart of New Zealand’s Southern Alps.
I realise that while I often get days off, it is rare that I have a really good vacation. A day off gives a chance to catch a breath, but a vacation enables a different way of living, deeper than the up and down emoji life that too often fills my hour to hour existence.
A good vacation requires careful and even disciplined planning to ensure that we don’t end up just working at a different pace in a different place. Good vacation preparation enables our programmed routines and daily demands and rhythms of work life to slip from our minds and bodies allowing us to discover a new way of being that is much closer to our healthy human default setting.
Such vacation life is essential nourishment for a healthy mind, heart, soul and body.
At prayer earlier this morning I was moved by the calmness of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3. (Today’s Office of Readings). Whether in the difficult routine of their daily lives when they were speaking the unwelcome truth to the king, or when being punished in the heart of the blazing furnace, they were at peace. Not even the seven-times-hotter-than-usual flames were able to, in the words of the great hymn, shake their innmost calm.
We are reminded of this in today’s first reading: “The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God. No torment shall ever touch them.” Today’s Mass psalm continues the message as we remember to turn to God not only when things are tough, but 24/7, in every moment, “at all times.”
I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the Lord;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
When the just cry out, the Lord hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
It’s a year today since the earthquake brought destruction, pain and suffering to the Hurunui and Kaikoura, crushing people and property and leaving many brokenhearted. In the midst of this suffering (which continues for many), many people of faith continued to “bless the Lord at all times.”
Often a dramatic event shakes us awake to the fact that beneath the routines and programmes of our lives we are not calm. While this awakening can feel like a crisis, it is in reality a great opportunity, a gift, a growth pain for the one who is open to growing in maturity.
In this awakening we often realise that we have allowed our routines, our busyness and our moods to hide the life of our soul from our consciousness.
Thanks be to God for such awakenings, and for vacation days.