Pilgrims, travelers. Wayfarers, peregrinis. Love our journey and love our homeland. Bound for the Kingdom of God. And so we enter this worship series of cultivating Travel as a Spiritual Act. 

In the tradition of Celtic monasticism, Irish monks would set sail in a small boat called a coracle, without oar or rudder, to sail the currents of divine love. and let the winds and current carry them to what they called their “place of their resurrection.” The sea would bring them to a place of rest that they had not chosen themselves. They trusted in the Winds of God to guide them to their destination – to the place of new life.  This practice of pilgrimage was called Peregrinatio – a journey rooted in a willingness to yield to holy direction. This kind of wandering was an invitation to let go of any agenda to discover God’s leading in one’s life. It was a call to wander for the love of God.

The scripture from Exodus reminds us that the early texts of the Hebrew Bible portray images of the Divine accompanying the people “on a journey.” God became a “pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night.” This is the God who guides the people 40 years through wilderness to the promised land. There was a more direct, efficient route, but God did not lead the people by the shortest route. Just like on the sea, a rudderless boat or coracle relying on just the wind in the sails would not necessarily be the most efficient route, but perhaps there is more to learn on the journey than reaching one’s destination by the shortest route. The spiritual life is not about efficiency. The route through the wilderness was one in which battles would be less about fighting another nation, but more about their own internal battles of identity as a newly-freed people journeying together. 

St. Augustine wrote: “People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.”  

If we open to the invitation for deeper reflection about ourselves, about other people on the path, the journey becomes more important than the destination. Could it be that God continually calls for our souls to slowly ripen and unfold through this process of wandering and wondering? 

But first, the Hebrew people first had to leave home. We, too, sometimes need to leave home in order to grow and thrive. Beginning a journey always involves leaving home, the familiar, and getting out of one’s comfort zone. Whether it is to explore another part of the world or changing a deeply held mindset that is keeping us from expanding our spiritual capacity.

It may seem somewhat ironic to be starting this series of “Travel as a Spiritual Act” when it feels like we are being led on the longest route possible to get to the other side of this pandemic. I’m just hoping it won’t be a 40-year journey, even though it feels like a lifetime already. Just when we thought we could be a bit freer to move about the cabin – especially those of us who were able to be or chose to be vaccinated, we are instructed to put our seatbelts on once again, to mask up once again, to stay closer to home and not go so far afield. Why focus on travel when it holds a greater element of risk at the moment? I think we can cultivate a traveler’s heart, a traveler’s mindset even when we can’t physically travel. We can always find ways to “leave home”  – to travel as a spiritual act, even if it needs to be more metaphorical at the moment. 

Our call to worship included a line from a poem written by Antonia Machado:

Wanderer, there is no road / the way is made by walking.”

There are different ways to interpret “the path”. For the poet, there are two meanings: one way is interpreting it as the literal path. Another way is to see the path as life as a journey, the different places where we have been, and the life we have left behind.  Each step we take is shaped by listening to how divine presence calls us forward, the direction we take, the choices we make, how much control we are willing to yield.

So let’s pack our metaphorical bags and think about leaving home to go on this journey, to cultivate Travel as a Spiritual Act. What’s on your list to go in your knapsack? What are the feelings stirring up within you as you think about going on a journey? For me, when I get ready to pack my bags, and go on a journey somewhere, it’s usually a mixed bag internally. Anticipation and excitement are often accompanied by anxiety, apprehension and uncertainty about leaving and entering the unknown. 

It ended up being an extreme case of trepidation and uncertainty for the Hebrew people. When the going got rough in the desert, the Israelites longed for their fleshpots in Egypt, even though it was a place where they had been enslaved. Impatience and fatigue is part of the journey and experience toward revelation and transformation. They begin to pine for Egypt. Leaving the familiar can induce stress. At some point we might question our decision: “Why did I think this was a good idea?” Leaving home, embarking on a new adventure into the unfamiliar, such as a new job or new relationship or a new travel route, can often lead to moments of questioning. The journey involves crossing thresholds into the unknown. Usually, further down the road, we can see the ways we stretched, how our spiritual capacity expanded, how we grew in ways that wouldn’t have occurred if we had not started the journey and left home. This is where trust and faith come in… at the beginning of any journey we remind ourselves that God has always been present with us and this will not change. We “look to the hills” from whence cometh our help and we remember that the Divine One who knows our “going out” and our coming in and guides us by opening our eyes to the wonder of the way.

During this four week worship series, we will be accompanied by some video clips of Travel guru and charitable fundraiser for FAN and Bread for the World, Rick Steves. Executive Director of GBHEM of the UMC, Dr. Tamara Gieselman, interviewed Rick Steves in March 2021 and we have permission to share some of those video clips in which he talks about how his travels and experiences over more than four decades of exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations have led to a greater understanding and appreciation for diverse people who live in different cultures.  

At one point Rick Steves is asked, Why do we travel? Why do we take the first step? He responds: For connection. By traveling thoughtfully, we connect. Even for those of us who can only travel as a state of mind, travel can result in a deeper connection. Travel connects us face to face with reality. Travel is about being in the moment. In a world hungry for authenticity, we yearn for connection. Travelers connect with different cultures, different people. On the road strangers are just “friends we’ve yet to meet.” Travel frees us from routine. It creates room for serendipity; serendipity leads to connections. Travel forces us to bend, and to flex. It makes us more tolerant and inspires us to celebrate diversity.

In this 2-minute video clip we will see, Steves talks about the “Road as Church”.  (SHOW VIDEO)

One of the things we pray for is that in our spiritual life and as this spiritual community of faith, is to experience the road as church to develop and experience “deeper connection” – with God, with each other, and with the world. The main point of this worship series is not so much where or how you “travel,” but that the act of expanding our horizons and challenging our preconceived notions is essential to our journey of faith. There are many ways to “travel” and learn about other cultures and religions. We can cultivate a “travelers heart or mindset” at home to include humility, authenticity, patience, tolerance, and trust in God.  

We are always on the way – we haven’t fully arrived – there is always more we can experience in our roundabout journey of this spiritual life. May we raise our sails to the wind and trust God’s spirit to carry us on our journey. 

Our hymn, written by Julian Rush continues the imagery of journey and God’s presence in our lives. God of rainbow fiery pillar, leading where the eagles soar,  We your people, ours the journey now and ever, now and ever, now and ever more.