What's your vacation theology?

An interview with "spiritual director" Jack Finney on finding the path to a vacation that will give you the right break from the demands of daily life

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By TOM HOLMES

Ah, summertime! A season for working less, going to baseball games, enjoying picnics, hanging out at the pool and, of course, going on vacation. So, where are you going this year? Not, where are you going in terms of a geographical destination, but where are you headed in terms of becoming a more balanced, whole person?

That is the kind of question Jack Finney, a spiritual director who lives in Oak Park, might ask if you brought up the subject of vacations in a session with him. In a brochure describing his ministry, which he calls Living Waters, Pastor Finney writes that you can benefit from spiritual direction if:

? You want to live a more balanced life.

? You want to listen to calls, nudges and invitations and to explore the resistance and obstacles to them.

? You want to grow in self-understanding.

? You want to make choices that are life-giving for you and others.

? You want to become more aware of who God is for you.

Talk to a spiritual director? Does that mean this guy?#34;I mean, after all he's a pastor?#34;would tell me to go to church every while I'm in, say, Las Vegas!? Not necessarily.

What Finney would talk a lot about, though, is first getting in touch with what you need. "If someone were to come to me saying 'I'm trying to figure out what kind of vacation to go on' I wouldn't give them a direct answer," he remarked. "I would help them listen to their own life."

In other words, spiritual direction is not religious in the sense of rituals, belief systems and church as an organization. Rather, it's about what Finney calls the "lived experience" of the spiritual. "Some people are religious but not spiritual," he asserted, "and other folks are spiritual but not religious." What Finney is after in sessions with clients is awareness of the spiritual or what the Jewish theologian, Abraham Heschel, refers to as "radical amazement."

Finney prefers to explore how each individual experiences the sacred in their everyday lives. For some, he says, it might be through gardening.

For others it might be through music or building homes for Habitat for Humanity or, yes, participating in a worship service. Each person, according to Pastor Finney, has their own way of "praying." In his brochure he states, "Discover your spiritual path and learn the ways people on your path connect with God. Learn to understand and honor people on different paths."

He also emphasizes the principle of balance in life, a concept he attributes to Benedictine spirituality. In other words, if you should come to him for spiritual direction regarding what kind of vacation to take, he might ask you where your life is out of balance. "For example," he explained, "if people are overworked and burned out a get away to a tropical beach where they can read novels under palm trees might be what they need. On the other hand, someone like me who is retired and a little bored might choose adventure for a vacation." He teaches that work needs to be balanced by play, giving by receiving, pushing on by easing back, being at home by getting away.

"Which reminds me," Finney commented, "of that old saying that you can intentionally take a vacation right in your own backyard. I often hear people say that they never see anything around Chicago until they take out of town guests there. What about taking ourselves to these places? You don't have to spend a lot of money, and you're still getting a change of scenery, still getting away from the normal dailiness of life."

Finney contends that his approach is really counter-cultural. Doing what you need sounds so simple, but we don't realize how controlled we are by cultural expectations. "Where should I we go on vacation?" he asked rhetorically. "Oh, we've got to go to Disney World for two weeks. That's what our culture conditions us to think. But if people spend time becoming aware of what they really need in terms of balance, they might choose to stay at home." With mock surprise in his voice he said, "'You mean you stayed home on vacations and did nothing but read books?'?'Yeah, I stayed home, and it was great, because that's what I needed' or 'I went to a monastery for a week, because I decided that I needed quiet time with God.'"

Although going to a sacred place would never be his automatic response to questions regarding vacation destinations, Finney is big on monasteries and retreat centers. "They can be a bargain," he enthused.

"You go to the Fullerton Cenecle, three blocks from the zoo, and you get a room and three meals. They charge you fifty dollars, and there you are in Lincoln Park!" He and his wife, in fact, are now planning a guided tour of sacred places in New Mexico, led by a woman who is into Celtic and Native American spirituality.

If people desire balance, Finney added, they might even consider doing something that is a bit uncomfortable. "For example," he said, "people who are used to being on the go all the time might, without thinking, plan a vacation with a lot of activity and come home exhausted. What might be better for them in the long run is to literally force themselves to sit under a palm tree and read novels for at least part of their vacation."

Pastor Finney advises that good vacations require time in advance?#34;time to become aware of what is going on in ourselves and recognize what we need to attain more balance in our lives?#34;and then the will to resist the cultural expectations which tempt us to spend a lot of money on activities which, while being distracting escapes, are not life giving in the deepest sense.

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