My family was blessed with our first true vacation together in six years. We rented a small yellow beach house for a week, and we spent hour after hour soaking in all the incredible beauty of God’s seaside creation.
We stayed up late watching The Lord of the Rings every night (with ice cream . . . no better combination!); we had a bonfire, we played music, engaged in endless rounds of Kadima (once, in 25 mph winds . . . most of the time I was an embarrassment to the sport, but I did have a few heroic moments). My dad and brother had an ongoing fishing competition.
We swam, got fantastic farmers’ tans (the thanks goes to my mother for helping all us girls find modest swimwear), collected a million seashells (of which we only kept a thousand), and walked miles and miles of shoreline.
We talked, laughed, and read, napped a lot, played hard and ate probably a little more fun food than was good for us (though we burned so many calories, I don’t really feel guilty. Actually, come to think of it, there’s no guilt at all).
We watched the glorious sunsets every evening and were amazed at how long the daylight lingered. We befriended a striking four-foot-tall blue heron, fed him fish that we baited with leftover hot dogs, and affectionately dubbed him Herr Detweiler (or Max, for short).
One day we went out to buy a few souvenirs and explore the area; my sister and I found oversized sun hats with bows and bright colors and walked around BlueWater Outriggers wearing them (to the complete humiliation of our younger brother 🙂 ). I took 500 pictures. We even accomplished the minor miracle of family portraits at sunset.
Personally, I relished getting to be so active out in the wind and sun. My closest-in-age sister and I got to share a bed and room all to ourselves, and while we initially planned to stay up late talking every night, we were so worn out from all the talking we did during the day on the beach, especially on our shoreline walks, plus all our other shenanigans, that we were both asleep in five minutes every night 🙂
My muscles and feet were continually sore, but every day I was experiencing the blessing of mental, emotional, and often spiritual refreshment. There was such incredible beauty all around me, and space to think and be quiet and ponder so many things that have happened to me, and to my family, over the past few years.
On impulse, I had brought along a traditionally toned (from the 1950’s) miniature book about St. Raphael and stuffed it down in my tote bag. Reading this on the beach catapulted long discussions with my sister and graced us both with the blessing of a deeper devotion to this Archangel, especially in regards to our vocations.
She and I packed several big holy cards with us (Our Lady of Fatima, St. Joseph as a child, and St. Raphael) and we wedged them into the edge of a picture frame hanging in our bedroom wall, making a mini-shrine like the one we have in our room at home 🙂 But, while on this theme, I have to say one of my very favorite things we did at the beach was to bring our spare framed images of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, our votive candle, a crucifix, and holy water, and make the fireplace mantle at our beach house a copy of the one we have at home. Dad blessed the living room with holy water.
It was like having our home away from home . . . and, when you’re someone who believes in the home being a “little church” (as St. John Chrysostom put it), then that’s exactly the point.
Yet even so . . . with all our sacramentals and daily prayers in tow at the beach house, it was still wonderful to be home again. (Which is funny, especially when I recall being so devastated every time a vacation came to an end when I was younger . . .)
After we got home, it was made clear to me (in more ways than one) what a gift and true necessity the routines of home life are. The quiet routines we take for granted, and which we’re largely removed from on vacations, are often a spiritual safety net. Family trips are a wonderful time for refreshment and for making memories together, as well as marveling at the splendor of God’s creation . . . but I think there’s a significant reason why we often start craving to be home again. Not merely to be back to “the normal”; but, truly, to be home. To be back to our order (well, as much order as we can ever make 😉 ), to our prayers, to work. Ora et labora. If the truly Catholic home is a little church, then our time-shaped routines of work and prayer are, in a certain sense, liturgy.
When speaking in general terms about Catholic worship, if the liturgy is negatively altered or impeded, it’s possible our dispositions receptivity to grace can be altered as well. On a smaller scale, the same can be said when we take a break from our home life and our family liturgy is consequently altered a little too. If we’re not vigilant, it’s so easy let the alteration/cessation of our daily routines impede our receptivity to grace and our alertness in spiritual battles, both as individuals and as a family.
But in any event, it shines fresh perspective and awakens gratitude to come to the end of a beautiful vacation and realize that we crave the rhythmic days of home. We realize there are things to be done (often simple, mundane, repetitive things) in order for us to keep on living our vocation to sainthood; we want to get back to them. And I call that a real grace!
At last they rode over the downs and took the East Road, and then Merry and Pippin rode on to Buckland; and already they were singing again as they went. But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill, as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap. He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.
-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King