That's Not God You Are Feeling, It's Called Vacation

Last week I spent a lovely time with my family on the shores of Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. We've been going to Hilton Head since I was in high school. So it's a special place to me.

I expect like many of you, I find the ocean spiritually refreshing. My favorite thing to do is linger at the end of the day. Around dinner time all the beach goers head back to their houses and you get to have the expanse of sand, water and sky all to yourself. On our last day at Hilton Head I took this picture. A George MacDonald book in my hand.

But here's the strange theological reflection I'd like to share with you. While I really do get spiritually filled at the ocean, I resist the "finding God in beautiful places" impulse. People say things like this all the time: "I feeling closest to God at the ocean" or "I feel closest to God when I'm in the mountains". Just think of that beautiful place in your own life and memories and how it made you feel closer to God.

Once a friend shared this sentiment with me. She said, "I really feel close to God by the ocean." And I joked, "That's not God you are feeling. It's called vacation."

But I was only half-joking. Because I do think there is something problematic about seeking out a beautiful place to feel close to God.

A few years ago I made a similar point in my post "I Love My Ugly Town," contrasting my not very pretty hometown of Abilene, TX with Malibu, CA. I made the point that if you have to go to Malibu to feel close to God we've got a spiritual problem on our hands. We need to learn to find God in the boring and ugly places of everyday life.

For three reasons.

First, there is a socioeconomic issue.

Most of my friends at Freedom Fellowship (a mission church sharing life with the poor) aren't going to get a chance to go to a Hilton Head or a Malibu. So all this jabbering about finding God on the beach sort of sticks in my craw. Are my friends at Freedom doomed to never experience these spiritual heights because they can't afford a beach vacation?

The second problem is that if we only find God on vacation or at that beautiful destination then God is always somewhere else and never where you are right now.

And the final, related problem is that if we only experience closeness to God at that beautiful vacation spot we fail to develop the spiritual discernment required to experience intimacy and profound union with God in the midst of ordinary life and ordinary places. For thirty years Jesus lived in Nazareth. And from what I can tell, Nazareth was no Malibu or Hilton Head.

But there was beauty in Nazareth. Not vacation, resort beauty. But the everyday beauty of sunrises, starry skies, springtime flowers, and the wind in the trees. These sights, I'm quite sure, would have made Jesus's heart sing praises to his Father, the Creator of all things.

I am spiritually rejuvenated being at Hilton Head. Especially with a George MacDonald novel in hand. So I don't want to dismiss the healing effects of beautiful places and a well-deserved vacation.

But I'm much more interested in developing a Nazareth aesthetic, learning to find God in ordinary places and ugly towns.

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