One of the many pleasures of the spiritual life is steeping ourselves in a place, simmering in its bounties, celebrating its wonders, listening to its special music, and loving its peculiarities. Some are fortunate enough to have this kind of in-depth relationship with the place where we live. Others are blessed with another special place that they hold dear to their hearts. Robert Benson and his wife Sara live in Nashville, Tennessee, and they love it there. But they regularly take a vacation to a favorite island in the Caribbean. In this delightful paperback, the author writes about a trip there to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary.
Benson and his wife work at home; he is a well-known devotional writer and retreat leader and is profiled in our Living Spiritual Teachers Project. Each year they look forward to their escape to the Caribbean for one to two weeks. One of the most enchanting things about the experience is the heartfelt welcome they receive when they arrive after a long trip. Benson observes why this is so important to them:
"We live in a world where such welcome and gentleness and civility are increasingly rare. Most of the conversation between strangers is terse and quick, and too many times it is cold and rude. It can even be that way, more often then we care to admit, among people who are not strangers. Such is the world we live in that we are almost stunned by hospitality and gentility whenever it breaks out around us. We are drawn to the people and to the places where we find such welcome in abundance."
The second thing Benson loves about St. Cecilia (not the actual name of the island) is that he immediately slows down there as he adjusts to island time. The hurry and the pressures of deadlines vanish once they arrive in this sun-drenched paradise where birds come around to be fed, where the trade winds ripple the palm trees, where naps can taken, and books can be leisurely perused. Benson has no interest in the large Western resort on the island which he whimsically calls "a cruise ship with a bigger stateroom and a golf course." The tourists staying there rarely see much of the island; they stay encapsulated in their pleasure palace. The author and his wife take drives around the island and hang out with friends they have made over the years. Benson, who loves reading newspapers, finds himself fascinated with the local one. He delights in the many small gestures of kindness by those who live in a place where the air is clean and there are no freeways.
The third thing Benson loves about the island is that it is his spiritual teacher. It tutors him in the art of living with less stuff. The time spent in their island cottage with two rooms, a bath, and a swimming pool challenges him to think how much more simply he could live back home. When he does return to Nashville, his first impulse is to throw out every third thing in their home. A quotation from Annie Dillard says it all: "The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet." Anyone who has spent time in the Caribbean will identify with Benson's love of this place and its salutary effect on him and his wife.