I have been a traveler for as long as I can remember. Whether by plane or a good old fashioned road trip, I have spent a lot of my life in other places, discovering new cultures, sights, and sounds. When I was a child these trips would often be to National Parks, and my father would ensure that I got my National Parks Passport stamped at every stop (when my brother was young, he and my father made a journey to all 50 states, but that’s another story).
I was only eight years old when I first got my real passport stamped and took my first trip abroad with my mother and grandmother to England. Being anglophiles themselves, I got to experience the culture through the eyes of two people passionate about tea and English gardens. Despite the fact that I was only in third grade and likely begged them to eat at Pizza Hut every night we were in London, a world was awakened to me that lay beyond my borders–nationally, obviously, but also beyond the confines of my tiny eight-year-old self.
Something greater was going on, and through this, I have no doubt, a seed was planted.
I continued to be blessed with the ability to travel abroad as I grew older. I traveled to countries in Europe where people didn’t speak my language natively, and I was stretched just a bit further as I stumbled through the simplest of terms and for the first time became the “other”.
In college, I took my first trip to Europe without my mother (I didn’t even cry!). A friend my age whom I had known most of my life was about to travel across Europe, and as I listened to him, the sprout from that seed that had been planted long ago prodded me to cancel my summer plans and pack my bag. Through a whirlwind decision, I joined him on his trip through Europe, making mistakes, taking chances, and feeling as if I had the entire world in front of me. Nothing was going to stop this sprout from blossoming now.
I spent my last semester studying abroad in London, England. Having grown up in a small Midwestern town, moving for a semester to a city with 8 million citizens that is said to be the most cosmopolitan city in the world stretched me even more – so much so that in a way, it now feels like home (or at least one of them).
Directly after my time in London, I took my biggest leap of all: I participated in a gap year program in Uganda where, with a small group of British girls, I lived with a local family, helping them with their ministry. More challenging than traveling abroad, encountering different languages, setting out on my own, and living in foreign lands, I was now living without running water. In the end, it’s those elemental, creature comforts that really test you, right? However, living alongside me without running water were the members of the community that became dear friends and companions and the Ugandan family that quickly became my own.
While my passion for travel continued to grow, something else was taking root within me as well, and wouldn’t let go: God. Having grown up in a Christian family in a town largely influenced by the local Southern Baptist university, I was surrounded by rumblings of God from a young age. Somewhere amidst these rumblings another seed had been planted: one that thrives on hope, is nourished by faith, and is planted in the rich soil of great mystery.
*$%#& wreh @%$#!
(sound of record scratching)
Wait a minute. Isn’t the rich soil that fertilizes the precious seed meant to be one of traditional values, Biblical foundations, and righteous living? I thought this was the case much of the time growing up, and I would be lying if I were to say that those lessons of my upbringing did not contribute to my spiritual growth. But God sows a soil far more wild, complex, and magnificent than a world of binaries would allow, and it was through my experiences traveling that I came to know this truth in my heart, if not yet my mind.
As I continued to travel to places beyond my borders, experiencing things “other” and beyond my day-to-day, my spirituality began to stretch as well. I began to experience God in new ways, and grew hungry for spiritual encounter beyond the binaries. I yearned to experience God in everything, most of all when I was in the transformative space available when in foreign territory. I found that my journeys continuously informed my spirituality, and my spirituality was in turn informing my journeys. The two seeds that were planted so long ago had grown into resilient and wild vines that were now intertwined.
But this is not just a reality for me. I believe this is true of all of us. We are all on journeys that take us beyond our borders and inform (and are informed by) our spirituality. Sometimes they are literal journeys, but we journey in many other ways as well. We journey through careers, relationships, ups and downs, highs and lows. We journey through obstacles and journey toward accomplishments. We journey through seasons of life and formation. We journey from birth, through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and eventually death. And as we traverse this terrain, we all ask the same essential questions, whether we know it or not:
Who am I?
Who is God?
Where is God?
What is the meaning of life—
In the bigger picture?
In the day to day?
What makes me come alive?
What do I long for?
These are sacred questions, and when we ask them with intention and actively engage the search that burns within us, our journeys are transformed. These sacred questions that guide us today have been the shared questions of humanity for thousands of years. Throughout history, those who asked these sacred questions with intention and actively engaged the search that burned within set off on pilgrimages – journeys of sacred encounter. These literal journeys brought these pilgrims beyond the edge of the day-to-day and into foreign territory that calls for the vulnerability through which sacred encounter and transformation often occur.
The practice of pilgrimage is alive and well today, beckoning a new generation of seekers to journey beyond the edge of daily life into terrains of mystery, wonder, revelation, delight, acceptance, and transformation. Now it’s your turn to ask these sacred questions with intention and actively engage the search that burns within you.
What will your sacred journey be?
I invite you to journey with me each week here on asacredjourney.net, where we’ll focus on the intersection of spirituality and travel, as well as the other journeys life brings. We’ll explore what it means to be a pilgrim, discover traditional and nontraditional pilgrimage sites alike, and learn about the different types of journeys we can create with intention. We’ll also hear from modern day pilgrims, explore culture through the lens of pilgrimage, ask hard questions, and uncover equally provoking answers.
Through it all, we will journey together, beyond our borders, with hopes of encountering something sacred.
Have you encountered the Sacred while traveling? Have you found that your travel experience has helped to shape your spirituality?