Magazine article The Spectator

Goodies for the Soul

Magazine article The Spectator

Goodies for the Soul

Article excerpt

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in the fullness of Time, even Rolexes rust. Fast cars, foxy clothes, fancy wines and fine jewellery are fun while you can enjoy them, but when you find yourself facing Eternity, you can't take those goodies along. When push comes to judgment Day, all such trinkets turn to trash. If you want real, lasting luxury, it's not your body you should be pampering, but your soul.

There are certainly plenty of people happy to take your money: the Bond Street of spirituality is chock-a-block with shops. Many of them are tour operators, and though their brochures don't offer one-way tickets to Paradise, they do contain suggestions for stopovers en route. 'Our tours and retreats . . . will help you discover and awaken your spiritual self while you are pampered in a relaxing, comfortable environment,' promises Divine Tours, of Portland, Oregon. The company's 'awesome, powerful, spiritual vacations' are 'not associated with any particular spiritual path or religious belief, though one of their offerings does give participants the opportunity to meet the 'Brotherhood of Ascended Masters of Light', which sounds pretty particular to me. Their mastery, it is claimed, enables them to teach you how to receive 'profound meditation experiences and spiritual breakthroughs in the most profound energy vortexes of the USA', and how to 'begin to transform your physical body into a light body'. If you find dieting and exercise as difficult as I do, you might be tempted to make a trip to meet the brothers light fantastic; if you have met as many nutters as I have, you might not.

If you're in search of something a little more mainstream - and you're Jewish you might like to book yourself 'a luxury vacation combined with spiritual and personal renewal . . . designed to enrich you spiritually, intellectually and physically while at the same time offering a relaxing vacation in a complete comfort'. Isralight's spiritual retreat at David's Lake has four 'brand-new' tennis courts and a private swimming-pool, serves kosher cuisine ('How can healthy food taste so flavorful and rich?') and is staffed by a 'world-class rabbinic team' that teaches 'the ancient transformational wisdom of Torah, Talmud, and Kabbalah'.

Access to even more ancient religious wisdom is offered by the Australian travel company Inner Journeys, which organises retreats and 'adventure travel journeys' to visit 'traditional healers, shaman and spiritual leaders to learn of their culture and spiritual paths', in which 'each retreat has its own special focus, including a holistic approach mixing free time for relaxation, spiritual awareness, transformation, personal pursuits or pampering yourself.

To those brought up in the Christian tradition, the notion of a luxury retreat will always be a contradiction in terms. You don't get full English with the Cistercians, and if some Benedictine monasteries are less austere, they are certainly not places people go to to be pampered. The idea that there is virtue in withdrawing from the world while still revelling in its comforts just doesn't wash - any more than St Simeon Stylites did, when he spent all those years stuck up on a pillar. You won't find contemporary tour operators offering spiritual retreats like his - though Ancient World Tours does have a package that includes a visit to the place where the arch-hermit perched. Unfortunately, this month's trip to Syria and Jordan has been postponed on account of certain local difficulties, but if it had run it would have set you back L1,875.

Paying even modest amounts for things that are good for the soul can be tricky for orthodox Christians, for whom buying or selling 'such things as are spiritual or annexed unto spirituals' amounts to simony, a sin named not after the man on the pillar (who was above such things) but after Simon Magus, the sorcerer who tried to buy supernatural powers from the apostles. …

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