Yes, my wife, Marilyn, and I went on a cruise last week in the Caribbean. And, although we’ve done it before, I never cease to be amazed at the things we experience.
Cruising is, indeed, an interesting experience. In a way, life on a cruise ship is a microcosm of the world — 2,000 tourists and 800 crew members from Europe, the United States and Canada, as well as places like India, the Philippines and Indonesia. And the beautiful thing about it is that, by and large, everyone gets along. I didn’t see any fights or arguments. People were actually very polite and friendly. People conversed freely and shared stories. That alone made for a very pleasant trip.
I wished that the real world could be that way.
Of course, it’s a vacation. And vacations tend to be happy times. Vacations mean time off and getting away from work and regular routines. Vacation on a cruise ship means experiencing new things and exotic places you normally wouldn’t see. I must admit that one of the things I like the most about cruising is just relaxing with a good book. Rest from work or normal responsibilities is a good thing. Even the Lord rested on the seventh day after six days of hard work creating the world!
Part of getting away from one’s normal routine is getting out of the cold and snow. It was not surprising that we met a number of people from Michigan. We were all so very happy to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays in places like Key West, Cozumel and Belize.
Certainly, the seeking of pleasure and having a good time are what vacations and cruises are all about. The well-known phrase, “the pursuit of happiness,” comes to mind. Indeed, everyone wants to have happiness. But, as we all know, happiness, like a week’s cruise, is a temporary thing. And, as they say, “time flies when you’re having fun.”
And fun is the name of the game. But sometimes people have a little too much fun. Just like life at home, there are excesses that can lead to problems. The hardest thing for me to see is the excessive drinking where people become obnoxious. Waiters are all over the ship pushing alcoholic drinks. I could do without that!
But there are also other excesses like overeating and gambling. Those things can lead to problems, too, like indigestion and huge credit card debt. As my mother would say, “Have fun, but don’t go crazy!” Ralph Waldo Emerson would agree. He is purported as encouraging “moderation in all things.”
One thing, however, was noticeably absent. There were very few outward signs of God or religion. At times I felt like it was a very secular place to be. I may have missed it — and I hope I did — but I did not see anyone bow their head in prayer before a meal. Besides that, there were no religious services offered at all on our ship, nor was there a chaplain aboard. Maybe the general feeling is that people don’t need to be bothered with God on a vacation. That disappointed me.
A friend of mine went on vacation last summer and took a picture of a sign she saw. She put it on Facebook. This is what it said: “When on vacation, don’t take a vacation from God.” That is something to remember as spring break will soon be upon us and many will take some time off for a vacation. We need God every day — even when we are on vacation!
One other thing that was unavoidable to see on this particular cruise was the widespread poverty of the people in that part of the world. Some of the people who took us on tours obviously had little in the way of material things. They were so happy to receive any gratuities that we could give them. I hope I also gave them kindness and courtesy as well as a prayer for their well-being. After all, we are all the same — human beings created in the image of God. We just happen to live in a very prosperous part of the world.
It made me realize the importance of continuing to give offerings to the less fortunate around the world and in our own country. As Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required.” (Luke 12:48)
Finally, I must say that one of the greatest impressions of the cruise for me has to be the awesomeness of God’s creation. As I sat on a deck chair watching the beautiful blue Caribbean Sea pass by, I was struck by the vastness of the water and the waves. And a hymn came to me, “For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies. For the love which from our birth, over and around us lies. Lord of all to thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise.”
Yes, life can be like a cruise. I didn’t know what I would get. I had hoped for some rest and new experiences in faraway places. But more than anything else, it turned out to be a unique way for me to inwardly experience the presence of God in so many ways. And for that I am grateful!
— The Rev. John Koedyker is pastor or congregational care at First Reformed Church of Grand Haven.