Thursday, June 05, 2008

Pilgrimage or Vacation?

I’m reading a book by a friend of Telford Work, John Inge’s "A Christian Theology of Place" as part of my summer reading. Inge spends great energy and time differentiating the concept of “space” from the more tangible “place.” Space is abstract, vacuous and huge (ala, the universe) while place is concrete, specific and bounded. I know all about different “places” in my life, but less so about “space.” This book has one chapter devoted to “pilgrimage.” A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place. How one defines sacred place is a bit trickier. Basically it’s where God has interacted with persons and that location has been marked and memorialized.
The question buzzing in my head this morning is this; what is the difference between a pilgrimage and a vacation? Anthropologists Victor and Edith Turner describe the attributes of a pilgrimage as these:
1. A release from mundane structure
2. Homogenization of status
3. Simplicity of dress and behavior
4. Communitas
5. Reflection
6. Movement from a mundane center to a sacred periphery
These are certainly things I experience while away in France. I am not tied down to daily routines like paying bills and taking care of the house. Our routine here is very simple and elemental. All those we meet are on a similar status as we are; travelers. I’m not working here, therefore everyone is the same to me. For six weeks I am living out of one duffle bag: 3 pairs of pants, 2 shorts, 4 shirts, and no tie. Clothing is not a big deal while we are away. Because of this change, when I get up in the morning early, I brew coffee and read and reflect for several hours. I am not working on tasks and projects, but letting spiritual whimsy take over (like today reflecting in Leviticus on the placement of the 12 tribes around the Tabernacle from East, South, West and North).
This vacation is a pilgrimage and, I would propose, everyone’s vacation can be a pilgrimage as well, even when we stay at home and just hang out. Disengaging from demanding routines takes intentional effort. In the weeks prior to leaving, I wondered about the wisdom of this trip to France. Why was I going through all work, expense and stress (on me and the church staff I leave behind) to get so far away for so long?
I think the same question gets asked by everyone facing their vacation time: can I really afford to use all the time I have? Can the company survive without me for so long? Can my career risk being absent for that time? What will I do? Will I get bored after the first 3 days? I like work, why should I stop doing it? Work needs me too much for me to go away. Maybe I’ll try to take more time later when…(children grow up, I have more time and money, the business is in better shape, etc.)
Are not these the very same reasons we use to justify why we do not take Sabbath rest? Why we insist on sneaking into the office or getting on line to do some emailing? Isn’t this why we shop, work, run errands and hold meetings on Sundays? Because there is so much to do and so little time? What would happen to you if you decided that this coming Sunday you would turn off your cell phone and not go on line at all? You would do your shopping on Saturday and spend Sunday in worship, reading, reflection, sleep, conversation with family and friends, and long meals with laughter? Pilgrimage? Vacation? Rest? Sabbath?


At 6:56 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the vacation/pilgrimage, place/space distinctions, there might be something to explore here in terms of internal place/space, unrelated to where one is physically. Think about the difference there is when sitting in one's study (or at a coffee shop for that matter) lost in thought about God's activity or simply centered in prayer versus sitting in that very same spot reading the paper or going over board meeting minutes. It reminds me of the approach of Brother Lawrence, Frank Laubach, and Ole Hallesby.
God's peace,


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