Last September I took a vacation with God. It wasn’t anything elaborate or expensive. I simply felt like we needed time alone together – just me and God without the many distractions of work, emails, cell phone calls, and the beloved family.
Let’s call it a Godcation. And why not? First there was the Mancation, which gained popularity earlier in the decade, where the guys would get away to blow off steam and escape the daily grind. Typically the Mancation involved outdoor adventures, or Harley rides, or gambling extravaganzas in Vegas. Next was the Staycation, which, in today’s economic climate, is experiencing a big resurgence in popularity. This is where you take your vacation time at home.
Now, I’d like to recommend another new trend, using personal vacation time for spiritual growth.
I never considered a Godcation as unusual or creepy or anything of that sort. However, I must admit that on more than one occasion upon mentioning it to an acquaintance, to one who was perhaps less spiritually inclined than I, the response I got was generally a vacant, confused stare.
“Hey! Where were you last week?”
“Oh, I took a few days off to get away. I was up in the mountains.”
“Wow, that sounds great! You and the family?”
“Uh… no. It was just me.”
” ” (Awkward silence.)
“Alone?” They furrow their brow and tilt their heads inquisitively, trying to guess whether it’s because of a mental health breakdown or the instability of my marriage.
“Yeah, alone. It was kind of a retreat, I guess.”
“Oh. What did you, um….do?”
“Plenty. I went hiking, I read, I wrote. I prayed a lot. Actually I kept very busy.”
“Alone?” they ask again, this time with a nervous laugh, the kind that says “He’s joking, right?”
“Yeah, like I said. Alone”
By this point in the conversation, my friend has veered so far out of his spiritual comfort zone that he feigns a doctor’s-office cough and grasps for something to physically hold on to while he scans the room to regain his orientation. Then he walks away slowly or changes the subject.People think that a full grown, married, professional business man going off by himself into the mountains is just straight-out weird. They are not comfortable with the idea of alone. Alone with God is even scarier. Sure, they’re thinking, it’s okay if that same idea came from their nutcase cultish cousin, or maybe their priest or rabbi, but from this normal, productive member of our Bucks County society? He’s gone too far off the ledge.
It would probably be more acceptable if I told them I was going to a monastery or a Buddhist retreat center. “Oh, by all means!” they’d say. “I read in the New York Times about this wonderful retreat center in the Poconos run by the Benedictine Order of monks. Did you know they serve only locally raised organic food? It sounds just divine!” And in truth, some day I may check in to a monastery, too. A friend of mine seeks out these monasteries on a regular basis, three, four times a year, where he parks and unloads his spiritual baggage for a few days. There in silence, he meditates and consults with God on business, family, and his personal growth. Typically he writes long and passionate letters to God while he is there. What’s interesting is that before the retreat is over, God usually writes him back.
I’ve checked out some of those retreat centers, and I am a bit dismayed to report that they are generally quite spartan. I prefer to treat God to a bit more upscale furnishings, so we tend to gravitate more towards the Great Lodges in the Adirondacks. I rent a small room for two or three nights where I can sit in a comfortable, over-stuffed chair, smell the wood smoke of the crackling fire all evening, and wake up to the sound of loons on the lake. It’s here, in the quiet midst of these ancient and beautiful mountains spread deep with a blanket of balsam fir, where they loom mightily over placid hollows of silver-blue lakes, here is where I think, pray, read and commune with the Almighty.
I have taken a Godcation every year for the past four years. This past September was not unlike the others, except that God gave me a bit of a scare. I think He was playing with me, and wanted to teach me a lesson. Well, that He did.