On the Wisconsin Department of Tourism’s website, pictures of Noah’s Ark Water Park at the Dells, parasailing in Door County, a box of chocolates, a golf course and the inside of rustic Spider Lake Lodge in Hayward entice vacationers to come relax in a variety of ways.
At least one of those getaways would be attractive to most anyone as a way to spend a week on vacation this summer. Father Thomas Green, however, was looking at his vacation from a different angle when he wrote “A Vacation with the Lord.” In his book, he suggests that to be renewed in body, mind and spirit, a vacation itinerary should have room for a “joyous and liberating encounter with a loving God.”
So, what about taking God along on your vacation? We asked seven of Forest Park’s clergy to tell us what they would do this summer if they had a week to experience physical, spiritual and emotional renewal.
Most of Forest Park’s religious leaders said they would get out of town for little while. Fr. Pat Tucker from St. Bernardine said that he already has plans for a cruise to Alaska. Tony Davidson, the pastor of Chicagoland Christian Center, said he would like to stay in a nice hotel in northern Michigan.
Only the Thai Community Church’s pastor, Pongsak Limthongviratn, said he would stay home. That is, of course, if he wasn’t using his vacation time to teach at the Bangkok Institute of Theology, organize a conference in Hong Kong, or help build a church in a Hmong village near Chiang Mai.
Several local clergy talked about returning to vacation spots they’ve been to many times before. Cliff DiMascio from First United has been to Israel and the Holy Land eight times and said he would go back again. David Kluge, St. John’s pastor, said that many years ago he and his wife often rent a cottage near the ocean in northern New England.
Five of the seven said getting in touch with nature helps them stay close to God during a vacation. Of course, it’s also just as good for relaxing.
“I like to have unstructured time where I can just sit, enjoy nature and be quiet,” David Steinhart, pastor of Forest Park Baptist Church said. “I do not increase the rigor of spiritual discipline on that kind of vacation.”
Tucker’s Alaskan cruise will be going up the inside passage from Vancouver to Anchorage.
“I am told that this trip will bring me into contact with some of the most majestic scenery our country has to offer,” Tucker said. “The opportunity to view mountains, glaciers, flora and fauna, and so much more gives me a change of pace and an experience of the grandeur of God.”
Change of pace can certainly be a good thing. Looking back on his years in the parish before he retired, Kluge said that a priority for him was getting away from the phone and what he called “professional baggage.” He explained that sometimes pastors can get frustrated by the seemingly endless string of board and committee meetings, especially when hard work seems to get no results. A simple change of perspective in itself can be renewing.
The religious professionals also talked about being good to themselves. Audree Catalano, the pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran, said she would love to go to a spa, maybe in California, and “be pampered with all of the services they offer.”
During his cruise, Tucker is looking forward to reading something lighter than tomes on theology, “to enjoy some mysteries of the mundane sort as I encounter some of the mysteries of creation.”
Davidson added that good food would be an essential component of his ideal vacation. In fact, he mentioned eating three times during his short interview.
All, in one way or another, said that renewing their relationship with God would be a priority. Catalano imagined starting her spa vacation with a three day retreat “to pray, to reflect, to renew my spirit, to meditate on God in my life, and to discern what path God wishes for me to follow.” She said she would like to end her vacation discussing with others how they see that God has been active in their lives.
While in Alaska, Tucker is going to get together with a seminary classmate serving in the Fairbanks diocese. Like Catalano, he experiences God’s presence at times through other people.
“Renewing old friendships is another way that I find the hand of God present in my life,” Tucker said.
DiMascio finds spiritual renewal in visiting sites in the Holy Land that help him “reconnect with the biblical text in (his) life.” He would visit St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Church of the Beatitudes in Galilee and the Church of all Nations near the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. He said that not only do Bible stories come alive for him when he visits these places, but because his life is always changing these sites allow God to speak to him in new ways each time.
Pongsak said that when he has some vacation time and is at home, he does a lot of reading in the Bible. Likewise, Kluge said that he enjoys God’s creation but that first and foremost “the Word always stays with me.” He and his wife read the Bible together every day, and he finds inspiration in meditating on passages he has committed to memory over the years.
Steinhart is thinking about spending a week at camp in Iowa to focus on spiritual and personal reflection, Bible reading, prayer and journaling.
Davidson though, touched on a few universals in his description of the ideal get away. He would like to stay in a nice hotel that has great food. He would sleep in and ignore the phones. The morning would start with a great brunch, followed by for long walks to see all the beauty that surrounds us, and talk to the Lord. Davidson asked for time to visit with others, make new friends and share what God is doing in his life that very day.
“That,” he said, “is what I call a vacation.”