On worship and summer vacation

Keith Spencer
07/05/2012

On worship and summer vacation

Morning in the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Georgia.

So I leave on vacation tomorrow. Really. Empty suitcases are staring back at me. Begging me to shut the computer off and fill them with socks and shorts and my new sandals and to not forget my bathing suit again.

The dogs are getting nervous. They always do at the sight of suitcases. They have been known to mark them, like territory, unwelcomed invaders in their home, letting us all know that they know, they know; slyly leaving us to ponder the implications of their rule of the house in our absence.

My wife has made me promise to name our new cat before we leave. My "to-do" list is an act of lunacy. "Luna." Better write that name down before I forget. It is getting late.

Things will just be forgotten.

Left behind.

So be it.

A week of vacation Bible school is in the books. Just. Lay visitation for the sick and homebound arranged. Our emergency pastoral contact alerted. Worship sorted out: our new worship service, an intergeneration blend of worship and small group, of the word in song, signing, drama, prayer and life reflection (and eventually art thrown in the mix) has been handed over to lay leadership. I’ve sent the emails, made some lists, left a pile of assorted microphone cables in a mess (again). Forgot to change the church phone message. Just remembered to stop the mail and the paper.

But our cat now has a name. And in trying to eat my headphones is claiming it for herself. I am a man in need of a vacation.

Rest.

Renewal.

To swap the palms and sand and busyness of South Florida for the slow mountains of north Georgia. For a good jigsaw puzzle and the sound of water cascading down upon moss-covered stones and the hum of invisible and harmless insects and the sight of trees towering like cathedral spires into the sky casting their shade upon bee balm and thistle and milkweed.

To wade in rivers and be caught in their unending pull; float away the afternoon imagining the nothingness of space and the infinity of the universe and the sacredness of stillness and how God constantly whispers our name when the shouts of traffic become as quiet as a mind letting go, lost amid a canopy of pine. I will not know the day of the week and will let the sun set the time at its rising and falling, and the stars by their light.

For those for whom the Sundays of summer vacation become opportunities to discover new places of worship; who investigate with eagerness their websites, and sneak a peek at the pastor‘s bio and print out worship times and Mapquest directions or pre-program their GPS with addresses: stop reading here and accept my blessings on your adventure.

I may end up somewhere next Sunday with a preacher preaching and strong coffee for my wife in the company of family, at their church home, but I won’t go looking for it, satisfied to sit by the river or walk beneath the trees or hike the falls or enter into the stillness, a small piece of the peace that passes all understanding, marveling at the handiwork of God and taking Jesus at his word: The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.

Whether or not these self-confessed possibilities represent setting a poor example for the flock God entrusted to me, well, people who make a habit of deciding such things will decide for themselves.

Perhaps we need to enlarge our thinking, to be reminded, difficult as that may be in our vacation-oriented thoughts of bathrobes and bacon, of morning papers and cold orange juice, that we may encounter God in places outside of the four walls of a sanctuary. That our spirituality, and, yes, we Lutherans may safely use that term, can embrace the sacred witness of the creation to the Creator, incarnational believers that we confess to be, without falling prey to the fear that we confuse the two.

God bless the Celtic Christians who have left a legacy of the immanence of God. As Esther De Waal, writing in "Every Earthly Blessing: Rediscovering the Celtic Tradition," reminds us, because God is near, "The sense of God informs daily life and transforms it, so that at any moment, any object, any job of work, can become the time and the place for an encounter with God." Even, one imagines, the work of rest and renewal.

I’ll see you in Sunday morning corporate worship soon. And if you go on vacation and do not cross the threshold of a church some Sunday morning, I will not judge, although I might ask where you encountered Christ that day, where or in whom or how, and consider the stories that unfold testimony, precious and holy.

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Keith Spencer is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Pembroke Pines, Fla.

You might also want to read:

Christ-bearers 24/7/365
The sabbath is a gift of time
Sitting by the sea

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