The Latin word vacātiō, from which, ultimately, the English word 'vacation' comes (via, I think, French) means, according to Lewis and Short, 'freedom, exemption, immunity, dispensation' - especially, they say, 'exemption from military service.' The word is derived, in Latin, from vacō 'to be empty, vacant' - and of course we get the word 'vacuum' from it as well.
I am on vacation - vacātiō - for a month - virtually all of October, although I worked yesterday, Friday the 1st of October, and I will actually go back to work on Tuesday the 2nd of November.
Susan is going off tomorrow, Sunday the 3rd, to her annual week-long theology course. Someone has to deliver the newspapers whilst she is away, and that someone is normally me. I had a fair bit of leave that I had to soak up. After her course she is going to visit Helen in Newcastle for two weeks, so it seemed now was a good time to take that leave. The end of October is our 'Family Concert' so I will just stay on vacation until November.
Vacations - 'freedom, exemption, immunity, dispensation', especially 'exemption from military service' - should be more than just time out. It should be rather like a retreat. I should spend time taking stock; deepen my prayer life; meditate. In the (approximate) words of a character in a Heinlein novel (Lazarus Long, if you want to know, in Methuselah's Children), I ought to 'take out my soul and examine it.'
I am not very good at that. That, after all, is what mental prayer is supposed to be about - described, in that Wikipedia article, as 'a time of silence focused on God.' And I flee mental prayer as the most terrifying thing in the world.
I don't think it is because I fear to meet God. Well, perhaps that is inaccurate. If I do not think that I fear to meet God, that is certainly because I have not the slightest realistic conception of what 'meeting God' would actually be like. That only reflects my complete emptiness - vacuousness :-) - as a person. I expect that if - when! - I actually meet God in reality, my reaction will one of wanting to shrink into a tiny speck and hope He won't notice me. But in my feeble attempts at mental prayer, I am not consciously thinking of any such thing.
I think I fear mental prayer for the same reason I fear death.
Talking to another human being is a very natural thing to do. I say something; you reply; I react. I may, indeed, be subtly - or not so subtly - in control of things. You and I are on a common plane. We are commensurable.
I and God are incommensurable. It is not just that, normally, I don't seem to receive conscious 'replies' from God. Oh, I know that people will say to me, "The Lord told me this or that." I assume that in most such cases the person means that in process of prayer and meditation, this or that idea came to him accompanied by a conviction that it is from God. I do not for a moment discount such experiences, though I confess I rarely have them (which may, after all, be unsurprising, considering the topic I am writing about). But I don't think that people are telling me that they have received some sort of verbal communication from God that is analogous to what their human friend might tell them.
It is not the lack of a perceptable reply from God. My fear of mental prayer is a fear of stillness. And that, I sometimes think, is a fear of what meeting God must be all about: total, unconditional surrender.
In dying, one by one my faculties - my senses, my ability to act, to do things - must slowly disappear. I do not, of course, know what dying is like. But what I imagine will be the thing I fear most is the void the complete surrender of myself, of my being, to that which is irresistible.
And surrender it ought to be. The alternative is merely succumbing. Being overcome. Having one's resistance overpowered. But I do not think that will be good. I hope that, when I die, I will, at the end, willingly give up my life - render it up to the One Who has power, in any case, to take it. It is not without reason that Our Lord said, "But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell." (Luke 12:5)
So that mental prayer ought to be a practice run. In mental prayer I ought to cease my desire to get at my computer, to Google this or that, to play my horn, to read a book - even, perhaps, to chatter to God like the over-grown monkey that I sometimes feel like. I should cease to have control, just for a while. Oh, He loves me. I believe that, astonishingly unbelievable as it sounds. He loves me and no one can care more for my good than He. But ... I do not wish to let go! I do not wish to surrender. Bliss though it will be - I do not wish to die.
May my vacation be a genuine vacātiō, a self-emptying, a time of freeing myself from the grip of my own I-must-be-in-control. For that way lies inexpressible peace and joy.