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beach_life

Rest and Relaxation

atheist hotel

A few months ago the prominent atheist philosopher, Alain de Botton, set out his vision for holidays and travel which really restores, relaxes and refreshes. It was part of his book Religion for Atheists, which explores taking the best bits from religious thought and tradition and recasting them in an atheist setting. His ideas included an architectural plan for a hotel as well as for atheist temples and museums.

The thing that struck me in his writing about hotels and holidays (in this article) was his design for the hotel. Most hotels and holiday destinations have a place for sleeping, for sitting (hopefully) in the sun, most often around a pool. There may be some historical places of interest nearby to visit. And of course, good food. Add these things together and you have the typical holiday. The interesting thing about de Botton’s ideas is that he sees the necessity for some sort of therapeutic renewal, intellectual renewal, thinking, and a sense of community. His hotel contains a psychotherapy room, library, communal eating space, and a ‘room for thought’. I would say these last things are elements of spirituality.

Up until now we have traditionally gone down the usual avenue for holidays – either visit an interesting place with museums, galleries, restaurants, places to visit, or visit friends, and whilst there read some relaxing and non-taxing books and try to take things easy. With kids holidays get a little less relaxing for the adult, as we need to keep them occupied, but the basic premise is the same. I also took quiet days for retreat at other times of the year, but these were not to be confused with holidays.

This year we decided to take a week at the Spring Harvest Holidays campsite in Vendee, Western France. We came away from the week there incredibly relaxed. Each day there was a short and light Christian programme, with some spiritual input in the morning and at about tea time. There was a community feel so it was easy to make new friends. And the rest of the time there were activities you could opt into or out of – some where individual creative pursuits, some sporting, and others were things that you wouldn’t normally be able to do on a holiday such as a pub quiz and communal evening entertainment. All this was in the beautiful coastal wine-growing region of Vendee.

On reflection, I was so relaxed because of a combination of the activities, ease of entertaining the kids, and the spiritual input. This mixture resulted in body and soul being restored. It was only afterwards I recalled Alain de Botton’s thoughts and was reminded that this combination for retreat and relaxation comes from religion in the first place!

In the New Testament, Paul criticises some for separating the body and soul, yet many times we fall into the same traps. I wonder, apart from Spring Harvest (which we may well go to again!), how to avoid this on family holidays in the future?

(Image Copyright Alain de Botton on religionforathiests.com)

Spirituality

Chapter 9 of Tim Chester and Steve Timmis’ book, Total Church, talks about Biblical spirituality. They claim, rightly, that spirituality is word-based, and focussed on the person of Jesus.

“Union with Christ is not the goal of spirituality, it is the foundation on spirituality. It is not attained through disciplines or stages; it is given through childlike faith”

This, I agree with. As Christian’s we are not trying to be spritual in order to get to God, this path has been opened up to us through Jesus. Spirituality can therefore be seen as an engagement with the world rather than a detatchment from it. Timmis and Chester give an excellent example of a young Christian trying to do this, by remaining integrated with non-Christian friends and groups.

This is true, but at the same time, Chester an Timmis seem to see spending time in solitude and silence as and irrelevant part of spirituality. I certainly agree that it is not the entirety of spirituality, and it is also not a means by which to get to God, but surely by clearing our schedules and setting aside time, it enables us to focus our minds on God. I am also not suggesting that this quiet should be divorced from scripture, or that we go in search of an inner spiritual identity. Likewise, God will give us an extra revelation of himself to sit over and above scripture. But we do not have to choose between solitude and scripture.

But, the time to meditate on God’s words in the Bible, to clear our minds or preoccupations so that we can get to the heart of some issues and in short, engage with God. We clear our schedules so we can hear his voice speaking through scripture and through others. This is part of a biblical picture of spirituality. Didn’t God speak to Elijah through the stillness? Didn’t Jesus retreat away from the crowds on his own?

In this chapter, Chester and Timmis say a lot of good things, but I think they have missed a trick by dismissing stillness and solitude so easily.

Quiet

I’ve just had a lovely 3 day retreat in the tranquil surroundings of buckfast abbey. The quiet was wonderful as I was able to get away from the pressures of a busy church and relax, read, pray, and enjoy the good weather, home cooked food, and beautiful surroundings.

In a chapel at the back of the abbey is a quiet space with the most amazing stained glass window – probably my favourite anywhere. It was put in by a monk who learned how to be a glass worker. But the reason I like it is the image of Jesus that it portrays – Jesus stading over the communion table as the giver and centre of the eucharistic family meal.

This window is directly behind the actual communion table in the chapel, so it looks like Jesus is the presider. You cannot even sit in that chapel without realising that it is he who breaks the bread and shares the wine and distribute it to us. I spent a qhile just sitting and meditating on the gift of God in Jesus. He is, after all, Emanuel – God With Us.