Parson to Person: “Vacations,” May 14, 2021

I will be leaving for Sanibel Island (off the coast of Florida) this coming Wednesday (May 19th) for a week of vacation (though I will still be leading the May 23rd service, through Zoom, as I normally do). Often when I go somewhere on vacation someone will ask, “Was it nice to get away?”  And sometimes they will ask, “Are you glad to be back?” The answer to both questions is usually yes.

What is it about vacations that make us look forward to having them–but, at least in my case–equally glad to get back from them? There’s a clue, I think, in the Latin origin of the word. Vacation comes from “vacare,” meaning to be empty, or unoccupied. (Related words in English: vacant, vacate, evacuate, and vacuum.) We all need times in our life for a little idleness. We wouldn’t want it all the time, of course (any more than we’d want to eat dessert all day); but the empty times help rejuvenate us for the full or busy times. (Rejuvenate is another interesting word–from “re,” meaning “again”; and “juvenis,” meaning “young.” Still another interesting word is recreation–from “re” and “create”: to create again.)

Folks, I love my job as your minister. But I know I do a better job at it when I take some time once in a while to be away. I think that’s true for a lot of people. This is why most jobs include at least one day off each week; it’s why we might pray, meditate, or practice Tai Chi or yoga on a frequent basis; it’s why people go on retreats, sabbaticals, and vacations. It’s not that these times are better, or more important, than the other parts of our lives–but that they make those other parts more meaningful than they might otherwise be. (Another way of putting this is to say: In order to use your time well, it’s important to “waste” some of it. “Waste” comes from the Latin “vastus,” meaning “unoccupied,” and our word “vast” derives from it too.) This is also the reason for a sabbath or a sabbatical (from the Hebrew “shabbat,” meaning “rest).  It is also why we have a church service every Sunday morning. There are certainly other things we could be doing with that hour or so each week–things that might be more practical, efficient, or “productive.” But by turning away from our usual routine and day-to-day busy-ness, we are able to go back to them with new eyes. (And sometimes a new heart as well.)

Anyway, I am leaving for vacation on Wednesday of next week (and will be back on the Tuesday of the week after). I know I will be happy to be away, and just as happy to come back. I hope you too will have a few chances this summer to “waste” some precious time–and that of a bit of that time may even be “wasted” on Sundays at 10 am.!  After all, a judicious waste of time (drum roll, please) is not a waste of time!

peace and unrest,

tony