Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Reflections on vacations, leisure and play

We're back from a week in Hawaii, celebrating our tenth anniversary. (People told us that we didn't look old enough to have been married ten years. Kind of cool.) Ellen had been to Hawaii for a Continentals trip one summer during college; my only time there before was a stop at the Honolulu airport on my way to Taiwan years ago. This was basically our first non-work-related trip by ourselves since our kids were born.

We were on four of the islands: Oahu, Hawaii, Maui and Kauai. We visited Volcanoes National Park, Waimea Canyon, Pearl Harbor and various waterfalls and beaches. Fantastic weather, of course, apart from a brief rainshower on Kauai while we were at a fern grotto on the Wailua River. (I am incapable of appreciating nature without taking pictures; I took over 800 pictures during the week. See some of the pictures here.)

Part of me was conflicted about the expense of the trip. At times it felt rather self-indulgent to be spending all this money on ourselves. So much of the tourist experience is bound up with consumption and consumerism of some form or another, whether of tours or meals or knickknacks. The sheer number of tourist trap shops, by their very ubiquity, sucked us into buying souvenirs and gifts that we probably didn't really need. (One odd sighting - at Pearl Harbor, our tour guide made the point that this was a memorial, not an attraction, that we should be sober in remembering those who died there. But in the gift shop, there were things like a U.S.S. Arizona Memorial Rubik's Cube. Weird.)

On the flight home, I started wondering to myself, "What's a Christian approach to vacations?" It occurred to me that there aren't biblical examples of vacations per se. Not really the kind of thing that nomadic Ancient Near Eastern peoples had the luxury of taking. But while Scripture doesn't talk about "vacations," it certainly speaks much about sabbath. And Christian tradition would certainly acknowledge a theology and spirituality of sabbath rest as a regular rhythm of reconnecting with God, others and the world around us.

Early on in my experience as a parent, I realized that my young son was helping me rediscover the delight and joy of play. Child development folks talk about the importance of unstructured play. I realized that perhaps just as important as meaningful work is meaningful play. In our workaholic society, sabbath rest, play and leisure can be countercultural (as long as they don't become idols of their own).

So anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip, not only as a time for celebrating our marriage but also as an opportunity to experience God's good creation, to see oceans and mountains and lava flows. The best moments were not spent in gift shops, but swimming or hiking and delighting in the world God created. My theory is that in the fullness of the kingdom of God and the new heavens and the new earth, all of the physical locations of the entire world will be redeemed, restored and preserved for continued exploration and enjoyment. After all, his creation is all very good, and there's no way we can get to everything in this lifetime. So I hope and expect that we'll have all eternity to travel and visit all the places that we have always wanted to visit - and see them in all their beauty and glory, the way God intended them to be.


Unknown said...

Oh, Al, I so hope you're right about being able to visit things in heaven that I won't get to in this part of life!! I've thought of that very idea myself and it's so refreshing to hear someone else say it.

Travelling and exploring is one of the best parts of life in my opinion and (to spiritualize a little) I love the feeling of being closer to God as I imagine He is enjoying showing me new sights.

Anonymous said...

I just got back from vacation of sorts in NYC! And I remember thinking, man, I love this city. And heaven is a city. Cool.

About vacations. In Deuteronomy 24:5, the Old Testament tells newly weds that they should stop working for an entire year to get to know each other. It doesn't involve travel leisure, but it sounds like one heck of a vacation! (Not to mention a biblical rationale for honeymoons.)

Kylene said...

Hi Al! First off - congratulations on your 10th anniversary! You both look too young to be married for 10 years!

Secondly, I also hope you're right about visiting places beyond this life. I love to travel and have so many places I want to see before I die. But I know that there will be better things to see in eternity (some of which I hope are places here on earth that I won't get to see before I die). :)

Al Hsu said...

Mark - The Deuteronomy passage is significant because it reflects the Israelite emphasis on progeny and children to sustain the family line. In the family-tribal-clan world of the OT, there was not yet any formal theology of the afterlife or hope of resurrection. The only way you could have eternal life was to have children, especially sons, to continue after you. If a newly married man went off to war and was killed before conceiving an heir, that was a tragedy. So that first year after marriage of not going off to war was primarily so they could conceive a child right away to ensure the family line, to inherit land and property, etc.

(I talk about this a bit in my book Singles at the Crossroads and how Jesus radically transforms this perspective. Now identity and eternal life are found in Christ, not in having children, thus defusing the OT emphasis on marriage and progeny.)