On holidays


Lake shotfew weeks back, I read a message that was sent out by a small company that has both American and Canadian employees, wishing everyone a good vacation, and then adding in brackets, “or a good ‘holiday’ to the Canadian.”   I thought about that bracketed phrase on and off during my own holiday weeks, being a bit struck by the realization that Canadians still do use the word ‘holidays’ with at least some frequency… though I suspect that “summer vacation” will eventually creep in as the more common term.

There’s something wise, though, about not entirely losing the sense of time off as being vestigially connected to the tradition of “holy-days.”  There is something holy about stepping away from the busy-ness of jobs and studies to do something that rejuvenates us.  I suppose in part it brings a reminder that the world – and specifically the world of our workplace – can keep turning without us.  That’s an important realization.

My two weeks of holiday was spent with my wife Catherine and step-daughter Callaway out at my in-laws summer cottage.  The weather wasn’t particularly ideal – of our 14 days at the lake, we had only five days in which it was sufficiently warm and dry to actually venture down to the water – but even the rainy days brought their own kinds of pleasures.

We ate some wonderful food, enjoyed a beverage or three, hosted friends from Chicago for a night, went for walks, watched some movies, and read.  I had a couple of novels in hand (The Tongues of Angels by Reynolds Price, and The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, both of which were very fine), the latest issue of Image Journal (which includes a very good piece by Cal Seeveld on the artistic vision of Gerald Folkerts), and a couple of distinctly theological works (Jeremy Begbie’s Resounding Truth and a set of lectures on the significance of the Book of Numbers for congregational life by my friend Walter Deller).  But is it a true  break for the priest to be reading theology on holiday?  It is, if that is what regenerates and gives life, and for me reading such texts is part of what does that for me.

The “break” part begins with the wonderful feeling that comes in shutting down my computer and turning off my cell phone for a full two weeks.  There are no appointments, no meetings to attend, no crises to which to respond.  I can think and pray about my ministry in this particular church, but it is all done from an arm’s length.  For two weeks, I simply cannot intervene in anything.

Coming back from a stretch of time like that always involves a transition day, in which I catch up on the e-mail (probably 50 or 60 messages that actually required some response), the snail-mail (2 letters… how times have changed!), make a few calls, and generally put my calendar in order for the coming weeks and months.  I have to confess that the morning of that transition day was done at about half-speed, but now 24 hours later I’m up somewhere close to 80%… and come to think about it, maybe 80% of full speed is a healthier, even holier, place to be.

And I won’t take any of it for granted.  Two weeks of pure holiday is a privilege that the majority of the world’s population can’t even imagine.  And for some of us in the more privileged part of the world, taking that kind of time away from work is something we refuse to do, imagining that it is somehow a waste or an impossible indulgence.

But it isn’t.  It is, at least potentially, a holy thing.

Jamie Howison

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