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)