Travel is part of my life and my spirituality. Marcel Proust wrote that “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” I think he is right.
Travel broadens our world view, how we see things and for those who cultivate some type of spiritual life, travel can be soul food. One way travel is nourishing to the soul is when by spending time in places held as sacred by various spiritual or religious communities.
The ancient “Round Churches” on the Danish Island of Bornholm or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul inspire me with their unique beauty. They speak in a way deeper than words about the quest for meaning and faith that transcends culture or tradition.
Every other year I have the privilege of taking a group from Immanuel Presbyterian Church to the island of Iona, the heart of Celtic Christianity. While there, we worship daily in the 6th-century Abbey church. In that space it is easy to feel a deep connection to the Celtic spirituality that originated on this sacred mystical island. It is a spirituality that propels me and the community I serve into the future.
Yet, the spirituality of travel is about more than going to sacred places. It is about the way we travel, the way we present to the places where we travel, being more than a sightseer but someone who engages and interacts with the places they visit. Traveling with openness in our heart, mind and soul we may find ourselves nourished and engaged in ways expected and in ways that may surprise us.
I think of a particular Friday in Sandy Bells, a pub in Edinburgh, Scotland, known for its traditional music. Ann and I arrived before the musicians and the tourists. I grabbed a couple of pints. Standing near us was a man who, judging by the way he swayed back and forth, had been there for a while. He caught my eye. “Cheers!” we toasted.
He began to talk, and I learned we shared a common name. Sandy Bells’ Dave told us about his hard life, his struggles and his loneliness. He then pulled out the large cross that hung on his neck and told me that he knew he would be all right cause of him, pointing at the broken body of Jesus and “his Da.”
We talked some more, and he found out I was a pastor. I gave the blessing he asked for. I was moved by this stranger with a deep Scottish brogue willing to open his heart to strangers.
We were miles from home, yet I was reminded of a faith that transcended national borders. Listening to Dave, I knew we came from very different Christian traditions. Yet there was something common and universal in our faith. I felt blessed.
Dave went out for a wee smoke. We never saw him again.
Experiences like the one I had with Sandy Bells’ Dave remind travelers of the common human bonds we share across national borders. I believe travel helps us remember our shared humanity with all people.
Maya Angelou wisely observes, “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
On Sunday at 5 p.m., Rick Steves will be speaking at the Pantages Theater on “Travel as a Spiritual Act.” Perhaps the evening can be a catalyst for conversations in our community about travel and how travel impacts our lives. If it is in living rooms, pubs, faith communities or while walking on Ruston Way, let’s talk; let’s have a community-wide conversation.
How has travel touched you and influenced your world view or your spirituality? Does one trip stand out?
The Rev. Dave Brown is pastor at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tacoma.