It’s been a long while since I posted anything here. The reason is simple: I have been on the road. I live far away from my family and many of my dearest friends. This summer I have had the joy of spending extended time visiting many of my treasured people and places.
Last summer I wrote about the challenge (summer) holidays present to our tested and tried rhythms that we have worked hard on establishing. Whether the holidays are still ahead of you, behind you, or you are in the middle of them, here are some reflections on the possibilities that holidays and traveling offer for our spiritual lives.
Regardless of who we choose to share our time with ― friends, family or strangers whom we meet on our travels, telling, retelling, and listening to our stories is always powerful. It sounds obvious (especially written by a spiritual director) but it is still worth noticing, again and again. No matter how tiring and unexciting it might feel to tell the same stories about your life, emotions, experiences and reflections, the practice of telling of our true stories is not only deeply connecting but also insightful, affirming and healing.
Whether you have curated your dream holiday, or you choose to“go-with-the-flow”, and end up finding yourself in unexpected places, make a point to notice the emotions that arise from what you see, feel, hear, and experience. Learning to become aware and give space to our important emotions (which can be heightened when traveling) tell us a lot about our longings, fears, hopes and grievances. When we bring these important emotions to God in prayer and listen to them with him, we allow God to heal, affirm, and perhaps invite us to take action. If you feel more alive and awake to the world and yourself after a visit to a certain place, engaging in a conversation, or activity, it is wise to pay attention to what is going on internally. What is it that I am feeling? What is this emotion telling me? It is not unusual for people to discover, return to, or be affirmed in their life’s vocation, identity or calling while traveling. And on that note...
...Be open to finding God in unexpected places. Notice the beauty, goodness and authenticity of your surroundings and allow them to draw you to prayer and worship. I love bookstores, libraries, art museums, vintage stores, old churches and parks. I have also come to realize that all of those places are “thin places” for me where I am easily drawn to notice God’s goodness and presence with me. (The term “thin places" refers to moments in life where the present moment feels so filled with God's nearness that the space between God and you, or heaven and earth, feels exceptionally thin.) During this particular trip I also visited some stunning art exhibitions that addressed powerful social issues. My visits to these museums felt like sacred pilgrimages that helped me to feel and hear God’s heart for the beauty and brokenness of humanity.
Finally, it is easier to see our lives’ realities more clearly from the distance. Like an artist who paints needs to step back once in a while to see their work, so do we need to step out of our routines and familiar places, faces and practices to see what actually is happening. Gaining perspective is one of the precious gifts of traveling. Being physically removed from our daily lives for a period of time helps us to evaluate our lives more objectively. It snaps us from the "auto-pilot" mode of living that we might have fallen into. Whether you travel by bus, train, plane or bike, even the transitional spaces in themselves offer wonderful reflective movements to notice yourself in the story of God and listen to what it has to tell you.
Pro tip ;)
If you travel to a foreign country, do not be afraid to attend a local worship service. I love to worship with the local believers wherever I might be regardless of the language and whether they offer a translation. It is a beautiful experience to be welcomed into a community of faith beyond cultural, ethnic or linguistic boundaries. You will be incredibly encouraged to see how Jesus’ church is alive and well in all corners of the world and what a privilege to get a little taste of what is to come before we get to worship with all tongues, tribes and nations in heaven! It is still a very moving experience to me to worship in Dutch language as I remember the first time over 15 years ago when I first attended a Dutch church service, clueless of what I was trying to hum along with the others.
1. Lakeuden Risti Church in Seinäjoki, Finland. The church was designed by Alvar Aalto.
2. Izmir-Lesvos tent installation with 15 refugees' stories by Anne Uusitalo in Amsterdam.
Cover photo, 3. & 4. Museum of Humanity by photographer Ruben Timman in Zaandam.
5. Vineyard Amsterdam worship service in Zuiderkerk, Amsterdam.