Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
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It'll be good for you
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the July 17, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)
When we were little tykes, how often did our elders try to convince us to eat something or risk a new experience with the enticing words, “It’ll be good for you”? Were not such ploys often met with a raised eyebrow, resistance, or even out-and-out refusal?
It wasn’t so long ago when a wise friend of mine told me how good it would be for busy and “important” people to travel. At first I thought he was speaking about the value of recreation and the blessings it brings to those who are not afraid to get away from the familiar box of home, office, and work. After all, there is something rather enticing about visiting new places, expanding horizons and learning how other people live.
Further conversation with my friend, however, revealed that, while he cherished the particular blessings which come from travel, he had a richer reality in mind. He observed that travel gives people perspective about themselves if they but take the time to watch and listen – especially if they find themselves traveling alone for any significant distance.
He challenged me (and anyone else, for that matter, he said) to try an experiment the next time I was out and about, traveling to whatever destination. Train stations, bus terminals and airport waiting areas are perfect for the experiment, he said. And the bigger the crowd, the better, he said – and the further away from home base was “terrific!” And the experiment won’t work if we take a mirror with us – that is, anyone who in relationship or conversation we will want to turn to protect us from the truth we are about to face.
The experiment: just sit and watch the people pass by and after a good period of time ask a couple key questions:
• How many of these people know who I am? and
• How many of them know what I have done to date with my life?
The answer to these questions most likely will be “absolutely zero.”
He called that realization a “spiritual shower.” As individual after individual meanders or scurries past, the traveler is faced with the fact that, outside of just being, the titles he or she bears, degrees earned, people collected, projects completed, etc., etc., just doesn’t really matter. Who among the six billion people who could potentially pass by my seat at that train station, bus terminal, or airport waiting area would be impressed? If we are honest with the experiment, we are stripped consciously of what we normally believe or hold dear about ourselves as impressive, important or significant. One’s personal value cannot be rooted in the possession of things, engagement in tantalizing activities, or noble accomplishments. I am who I am in God’s eyes. That’s what matters.
If you do the experiment well, my friend advises, you’ll really feel refreshed. Such an experience is truly “good for you.” But my friend warns, though, that we fail if in any fashion we strike up a conversation which leads to talk (bragging) about ourselves. The longer we are alone with ourselves, the stronger the temptation.
Usually one thinks of vacation travel in terms of shutting down and getting away. Hardly an image of a relationship with a loving God. And indeed, we do shut down the office, school or home and find something different and sometimes challenging to do. At the same time, a fruitful spiritual lesson can be learned from the experience of traveling somewhere, especially if we have the courage to try this little experiment.
The very desire to go on vacation makes us mindful of the fact that we are not made for work alone. Whatever it is that fills our calendars or causes the sweat of our brows, it is not the ultimate, fulfilling purpose of our lives. Our hearts long for something more. Is it possible that God actually calls us to take a vacation? Vacations force a broader perspective on things. Away from our work and well-known places of life and work, we become preoccupied with a different set of needs and expectations. We are denied a certain worship of the work of our hands. As much as we may pour our hearts into our projects, tasks and responsibilities, the world of the vacationer is expanded beyond the normal work-place. Yes, the world God sets before us is much larger.
Especially when it involves being around complete strangers, vacation travel can keep us humble. Encountering a few thousand or more people who don’t know us from Adam or Eve – and, presumably, could care less – speaks a truth that is good for the heart. Strangers haven’t the slightest idea of who we are or the importance of our personal contribution to the human endeavor. And yet they, like us, are embraced and nourished by the love of God. Moreover, their God is the same God as ours (even if addressed by a different name). To know who we are in God’s eyes is what is truly good for us.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of the parishes in Rosalia and St. John, pastoral administrator of St. Rose in Cheney, and the diocese’s Moderator of the Curia.)
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