Like Ric, I have been traveling–only north, not south, to Upper Michigan, not Alabama. And since I fittingly read chs. 50 and 51 of the Rule on the road, I interpreted them in light of my two weeks on “vacation”–which going to my homeland isn’t, really. Not at least when an uncle ends up in the ICU, and you are preaching a sermon during your trip (about Jesus’ own desparate need for vacations–see John 6), and you are zipping about across hundreds of miles (the UP is very long across) to see once more myriad worlds of families and friends. And on top of that, your brother bundles in unexpectedly (because of your uncle), driving 36 hours straight from Winnemucca, Nevada with his wife and their three youngest kids and two dogs.
A vacation, to me, would be visiting in one place–urban or wilderness–where you know no one but any companion with you. To explore that place, listening and looking. To hike silently, to sit and read and watch water (or city streets) a long time. My ideas of a vacation has more of the taste of a solitude than of a busy family reunion like that I attended last weekend.
It seems that Benedict had no notion of vacation, much less a place for it. The Sabbath perhaps would alone suffice, and the rhythm of greater and lesser degrees of Lent. And chapters 50-51 caution against seeing a needed journey away from the monastery as any sort of vacation. Instead, wherever you are on your journey, you are supposed to stop and keep the Opus Dei right there. And if you’re on a short journey, you’re not supposed to eat out–even a restaurant is too much like a vacation from the commitments of living the Rule. Although many Benedictines today may not so assiduously avoid eating out, it’s easy to feel self-indulgent, reading this Rule and thinking about your latest trip out of town.
But the intent behind it can be readily appreciated. During my trip north, apart from the long traveling days at the beginning and end (when I read aloud to my companion the whole of Oliver Goldsmith’s 18th century novel, The Vicar of Wakefield), I had very little time to myself. Very little time to read–which is a staple I find I need as much as food. And I began to think that if heaven is being with your loved ones all at once, I would hope for cell-like heavenly chambers, so that you can enter and visit the universe you share with each person separately, instead of being unraveled by encountering a multiverse of all your beloveds all at once. (I am exaggerating a bit here, but my mother has 13 siblings and her great aunts and uncles also had many children, so a family reunion easily generates 200 people in a slow year; it’s more tribal than familial.)
So–endeavoring to keep a rhythm of prayer and centering while traveling is important, especially when the journey isn’t relaxing so much as stimulating, intense, and filled with the mix of joys and tragedies that life where you normally live bears as well.
How do others keep a serene spirit while unraveling away from home?
I found that at the very least, I could be open to the boomerang of emotions that came through me, for reasons I sometimes can and sometimes can’t articulate (even to myself). Let myself feel unmoored for a time. But regular times to pray would have helped me better digest all that rich fare. Like Jesus when the crowds grew too demanding, perhaps we all should regularly flee our obligations to others, even while traveling.