Our word ‘vacation’ comes from an interesting Latin verb that means to be idle, empty, free, or unoccupied. This gives occasion to consider an important question: why do we go ‘on vacation’ anyway?

Vacations reasonably can have various purposes. But a line in the forty-sixth Psalm can point to the deeper potential of our vacations. In the Latin it says, “vacate et videte.” These are plural imperatives, and so can be translated “Be still (or unoccupied, or idle), and see…” This is a remarkable directive.

In order to be able to see, we must at least sometimes stop the other things we are doing. Thomas Aquinas reflecting on this line comments that it is through rest or quiet of the mind that we come to vision—that is, especially to knowledge of higher things.

Herein we have a great angle for thinking about our vacation. It’s not that it should be a contemplative retreat—certainly not if it is a family vacation with children! But we can ask ourselves how a family vacation (or any vacation) might be an occasion for coming to see, or grasp more fully, certain important things, such as: the beauty and gift of the natural world; the importance of family relationships in our life; the power of being-together in simple ways with those we love; the gift of being a child of God.

Let me be clear that I’m not suggesting we be overly serious about vacation and thereby undermine its very nature as a restful-get-away. Rather, I’m suggesting we can make vacation a better restful-get-away if we are attuned to a key truth about human nature. Our ‘down-time’ both occasions and is itself enriched by a contemplative approach.

In other words, our vacations will be more enjoyable and have more lasting fruits if we bear in mind the imperative, ‘vacate et videte.’ Be still, and see. Or: vacation, and seek vision.

My own family vacations show that ‘stillness’ and ‘rest’ will take some carving out, and some creativity. And there will necessarily be at least some frenetic moments in spending this special time together. But that’s fine. If nothing else, my valuing a kind of stillness and deeper rest, for the sake of vision, can give a richer color to our vacation experience this year–even in the midst of a flurry of activity.


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