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Can Summer Holidays be Spiritual?

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SUMMER SPIRITUALITY

Summer heat, traveling and ice cream are among the greatest of equalizers, breaking down cold winter barriers among us and transcending time.

Today, on summer holiday in Europe, we climbed very high to the baking roof of an ancient building. A church, yet also the peak of the world as understood by long-ago builders. And we could feel their vision, somehow closer to understanding the view of Heaven during the Middle Ages. That view transcends time, as does the sun's heat, a reminder of present conditions.

It was hot, and our little group of English-speakers wasn't alone in feeling the heat.

Expressions of heat also transcend language, and there were enough languages on that roof for each of the multitude of Saints whose statues adorned the pinnacles. I couldn't help but wonder if they were hot too, or perhaps impervious to our solar system's hottest star.

Yet, up there on that roof, there also a common language among us: flesh-and-blood humans who climbed the heights and white marble statues who transcend the ages. This language is the bond of presence, and the heat combined with the experience of visiting this extraordinary place brought us together, shimmering in each other's eyes.

Perhaps summer travel to foreign places softens the barriers among us just as summer's heat radiates off the stone and blurs the boundaries of otherwise sharp rock-hard lines. Things aren't always what they seem, and where better to learn (and relearn) this essential lesson than hundreds of feet from the ground. Or, days away from home?

At the end of the vacation, we'll somehow sort through the experiences and create a collage of memories that last. By then, the memories will all have meanings attached to them, scrapbook-like labels in the mind. But for now, while on the road -- and on the roof -- the experiences are direct, fresh and without words. The ice cream brought this home.

After descending from the hot roof we sought the relief of frozen foods. Savoring each slurp was an absolutely different experience from wandering among the saints, yet similar too. The baking marble was the same color as cool sweet cream, and sharing such delights blurs human boundaries too. We don't need to understand each other's words to resonate with common appreciation for frozen treats.

My taste buds, like yours, glory in oh-so-sweet confections. My face, sweating like yours, radiates more than heat in the summer sun. In that crowded square -- as now in sharing these written words -- we can share joy and memory. Dreams for the future and momentary fatigue. And, even the patience and irritation that accompanies bringing children along for the adventure and humoring them on those inevitable summer lines.

Connection emerges when we share the experience of novelty. It bridges the space among human beings, even when verbal languages create distance. Today, up on the roof of the world, I grew, knowingly and in ways not immediately understood. My eyes were wide open to the magic of the moment, and it seemed -- to me -- that every other person atop the cathedral was totally present, too.

Maybe that's part of the wonder of travel, and the bonds of sharing a hot summer day or celebrating a frozen delight. The intensity of the circumstances help us experience what's happening in -- and around -- us directly, intensely and immediately. This is a glimpse of mindfulness, and a return to the essential familiarity of being right here, right now.

The trick is to breathe into the moment, to feel the changing wind and the passing of time lightly. Stay still, for a moment, mindful. Just feel, and taste, touch and smell. Notice the heat and the height, the ice cream and the thirst. Taste and touch, listen and see. And, then move gracefully into the next moment, always different than before.

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