Holy-daying, Kingdom Living, and Secular Space

We are recently back from holiday; we spent two weeks at Le Pas Opton, a Christian holiday camp in France owned and run by Spring Harvest. We were there because I was speaking one week; I don’t suppose we would have thought to book an explicitly Christian holiday otherwise. I thoroughly enjoyed working with two wonderful people, Cath and Rach, from Sound of Wales, who led worship powerfully and sensitively the week I spoke, and getting to know some of the guests.

A few days before we went, I found myself in London with a meeting cancelled, and so met up with an old friend, Lincoln Harvey, who teaches doctrine at St Melitus College (and, incidentally, is the one person you simply must follow on Twitter if you have any theological interest at all). We talked about many things, including Lincoln’s excellent book, A Brief Theology of Sport.

The argument of the book is, to me, recognisably Augustinian: sport, for Lincoln, is the paradigmatic (he suggests the only, which I resist) wholly secular pursuit, and as such is a profound mark of the graciousness of God’s creative activity. That is, in playing sport, we are not serving any higher end; the game ends with winners and losers, but nothing further results; the playing of the game has no purpose beyond itself. Sport is, fundamentally, gratuitous.

This makes sport fundamentally secular (in the Augustinian sense): it serves no purpose beyond itself; it also makes sport gratuitous in another sense: sport is an indicator of God’s grace in creation. That we can spend time playing/watching sport, engaging in activity that is purposeless, is a demonstration that in creation we have, and can trust that we have, all that we need and more.

I had not thought about what might make a holiday ‘Christian’ before arriving at LPO. (On arrival, we, and all the other guests, were presented with a bottle of local fizzy wine, which quickly disposed of one, dystopian, picture…) There was a full programme: morning activities for everyone; an early evening celebration for adults – although a number of teenagers also came to it the week I was speaking at least; a wide range of optional afternoon and evening events. The programme was all very optional, and geared to the fun: wine-tasting; pool parties; sports and crafts.

The emphasis was on the gratuitous nature of holidaying: we were there, essentially, to do those things which had no purpose beyond rest and enjoyment. I had prepared some talks on prayer and had planned to run a catchphrase: ‘no guilt trips – we’re on holiday!’ through them; this, it turned out, fitted the context perfectly. Tim and his team worked to create a place for people to come and rest and enjoy – and if they wanted to take in a bit of bible teaching or join in a worship session, they were welcome to, but it was neither expected nor required.

Arriving with Lincoln’s reflections on sport in my head, I quickly realised that this fitted my unformed idea of what a ‘Christian holiday’ should be perfectly. God is good, and so there is time and space to rest and enjoy. There is no need to connect holiday with purpose; trusting in God, we can dare to take time and space to relax, to rest, to enjoy. Kingdom living includes space for recreation, as well as its more fundamental space for re-creation. To make tasting wine the end of life is to miss God’s great purposes, of course; but to construct an account of life which has no space for tasting wine (or football, or photography, or …) is to miss God’s great goodness just as thoroughly.

The event on the programme that stood out to me when I glanced through it was an afternoon session: supervised play for toddlers, with parents given a voucher for cheap drinks in the bar; it instantiated this vision perfectly. The role of the site, and the role of the site team, was to do whatever was necessary to make space for rest and enjoyment for the guests, because when it comes to holidaying, that is what Kingdom living looks like.

Three things struck me about the guests I met, each testimony to how well Tim and his team had worked to make this vision live and sing: first, the number of guests who came back year after year: clearly, people found something at LPO that worked for them as holiday. Second, the number of guests who were in Christian leadership of one form or another (this surprised me; if we should be invited back at some point in the future, I’ll take the content up a notch or two): as someone who is in danger of being ‘professionally Christian’, I know how much I want to be away from institutional church stuff on holiday; to create a place that church leaders want to come to is impressive. Third, the proportion of children with some sort of disability or special needs on site was very high, even only counting those with visible disabilities/special needs (and one or two whose parents/carers chose to talk to me about their child) – and these families were often the ones who came back year after year. If you create a space where disabled and disadvantaged children (and their carers) are welcomed and celebrated and comfortable, then in my theology, you are extraordinarily close to the Kingdom of God…

Maybe we will go back, as guests or by invitation; if we do, or if we don’t, Le Pas Opton will stay in my memory as a place that impressively lives out a vision of what a genuinely ‘Christian’ holiday can and should be. Holiday is like sabbath and jubilee (and, differently, tithing): we can do it, despite all our needs and all the needs of the world, because we trust in the goodness of God.

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