Psalm 121, Exodus 13: 17-21
July 16, 2023
A few words first about my Sabbatical: rest, relaxation, reading, reading, reading, reflection, renewal and Rain! My great thanks to this wonderful church for allowing me to take this time away.
Over the coming weeks, we will explore the idea of travel as a spiritual experience. Summer is often the time when people choose to travel, to explore new places, to look at the world and the people in it with new ideas. It is a time to taste new foods, experience new cultures, to see how other people live. Often, even as we discover the different ways that people celebrate and ritualize moments in their lives, we also come to realize what we have in common. And, along the journey, we encounter the Holy in new ways too. Let us pray, Loving Creator, as you accompany us on our journeys, we pray that you may awaken in us a deeper appreciation of your presence as we explore new vistas and encounter you in those we meet along the way. May we receive new gifts in these summer months and slow down to see with new eyes all that you have provided. Amen.
Do you remember when you first left home? For some of you, this may have been when you left for the Service or for college. For others, perhaps it was study abroad or to travel. I recall that my first experience of leaving home was when I headed to college. I was really excited to start a new chapter in my life and I felt more than ready to leave home and set out on a new path. It was in college that I first took a plane ride; how different things are today. And when I traveled to study overseas my junior year. That inspired a real desire for travel that I followed throughout my 20’s. I spent a summer in Italy and a summer in Nicaragua. I loved all of the new adventures but I will admit that I was homesick every single time. I was deeply ambivalent. I loved exploring new places, seeing beautiful new countries and meeting new people and, at the same time, a part of me yearned for the comfort of home, for the security of my family and the simple joys of my life. I learned so much in those many travels and I learned that often you need to go away to really appreciate what you have, to learn about who you are and who you want to be.
Whether you travel far away or see your local surroundings as if for the first time, pilgrimage has long been a spiritual practice, and “journey” a deeply-felt metaphor for our spiritual lives. “Quest” comes from the Latin root meaning “ask, seek.” We know that the idea of pilgrimage extends back through the centuries, not only in the Christian tradition but in other religious traditions as well. Even today, many travel to France and Spain to walk the Camino. People seek new ways of connecting and deepening their spiritual lives and often they find that in walking or hiking, there are opportunities for reflection and conversation that too often don’t happen in the course of our daily lives.
Our scriptures this week remind us that the early texts of the Hebrew Bible are full of an image of the Divine that is “on the move.” This is the God who guides the people through the wilderness to the promised land. The author of Exodus explains that the people were led not by the shortest route, but by the (seemingly) safest route. The route through the wilderness was one in which battles would be far less against another nation, but more about their internal battles of identity and strength as a newly-freed people journeying together. As this series will reveal, if we open to the invitation for deeper reflection, the journey can be more important than the destination. The idea is to move away from the “are we there yet?” question to opening our eyes to revelation about each step along the way. We affirm this week that the first step out the door is the one that counts the most, because without it, the journey won’t happen.
Leaving home can be filled with anticipation and excitement, but also trepidation about the unknown. When the going got rough in the desert, the Israelites began to pine for Egypt, even though it was a place where they had been enslaved. Sometimes leaving the familiar, even when we know we must all at some point do this, can seem overwhelming.
Leaving home can be a source of excitement with a little fear mixed in when we are off to a new adventure or a vacation. The idea of home can mean security, love, privacy, familiarity and so leaving it is not easy. For some, leaving home is absolutely necessary to escape a difficult personal experience or more. For too many in our world who have been forced to leave their homes and countries due to war, poverty, and now climate challenges, leaving home means something very different. If you recall the images of the Syrians fleeing their war torn homes, there was great fear and desperation in their faces. And, the news accounts of our own southern border also demonstrate the absolute desperation of families who have fled north to save their own lives and those of their children.
An old friend of mine from graduate school who was raised as a Catholic in Derry, Northern Ireland, once shared that he hadn’t realized the full impact of the violence he had experienced growing up and the toll it took on his life until he was able to travel after high school and live in southern France. Only then was he able to begin to come to terms with the trauma it had left in his soul.
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 a moment of questioning: “why did I think this was a good idea?” Of course, further down the road, we often see the advantages, we learn and grow in ways we could not have if we had not left the comfort
of the known. This is where trust and faith come in… at the beginning of the journey we have to remember that God has always been present and this will not change. We “look to the hills” from whence our help comes–the Divine One who knows our “going out” and guides us by opening our eyes to the wonder of the way.
Many of you have probably watched some of the travel series by Rick Steves on PBS. He has done a wonderful job of sharing his experiences of travel through this series. He says that the opposite of fear is understanding. And the only way to understand life and the world better is to expand our horizons, which in turn expands
our perspectives. In an interview he did entitled, Travel as a Spiritual Act,” Steeves speaks about the way in which travel connects us to the world and that through a connection with other spiritual communities, we may experience a “deeper connection” with God, with each other,
and with a larger community. Rick Steves speaks about the many benefits of travel, including getting out of our comfort zone, doing new things, being exposed to new ways of eating, celebrating, worshipping and so much else. When we travel, we are invited to grow, to navigate challenges, develop a sense of humility as we learn there are other ways to live one’s life…we may find times when we have to be honest with ourselves or others, honesty, authenticity, certainly we hope that travel can help us to become more tolerant “worth the risk” of stepping out our doors and into this adventure? What mindsets are we in need of changing in order to live out the commission to love our neighbor as ourselves?
How might we connect to the idea that “travel is a spiritual act.” Have you had that experience in your travels? Rick Steeves talks about his feeling that “the road is church” to him (Methodists
will appreciate the connection to Wesley’s “world as my parish”).
In another clip we get a to hear more about where Rick experiences “spirituality” in his travels. He speaks about the ways in which travel offers the possibilities to experience wonder whether in a small church, a grand cathedral, or having a literal “mountaintop experience.” As he says, “we can never run out of ways to get closer to God.”