Can traveling be a critical aspect of a healthy spiritual life?
Can traveling be a Christian act of worship?
Yes, I think so. In fact, few things have impacted my life and my heart the way traveling has.
I got my start traveling when I was just 14 and still a freshman in high school. My father (an archeologist at the time) took me to Central America for ten days that included snorkeling off the coral reefs of Belize, hiking along the western coast of Costa Rica, and scaling the great Mayan temples of Tikal, Guatemala.
I haven’t been the same since– and I’ve never stopped traveling. I’ve been to somewhere around 40 countries and spent close to eight years of my life overseas.
In fact, I grew to love and value diverse cultures so much, that I even when on to become a Doctor of Intercultural Studies.
I’ve now reached the age where I have an adult child, and my youngest is beyond the age I was when my journey first began. This has made me realize that, as my father did before me, it is time to begin instilling a love and appreciation for travel into those who will live on after I’m gone.
In the weeks and months to come, you’ll begin to notice on my blog and social media handles that I’m going to begin sharing more travel related content (I’ve begun sharing past travel photos on my Instagram, which you can follow here), and expanding the types of issues I discuss. My hope in adding this to the platform of typical content I already cover is that I might begin to spark the imagination of someone, somewhere, to continue this tradition of learning to see and love the world around us.
As I look back on my experiences traveling the globe, living abroad, and experiencing a diversity of cultures, I am growing more and more convinced that traveling is or can be a critical aspect of a healthy spiritual life, and can even be an act of worship. Here’s a few reasons why:
Traveling exposes us to the fullness of God’s creation, and gives us a deeper appreciation for what God has made.
I can count so many moments on my journey where traveling left me in awe of God’s creation. Whether standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, experiencing the sun rise over the Australian landscape from a hot air balloon, watching creatures of the sea through my snorkel mask in the Philippine Sea, or camping in Europe’s magnificent Alps, I have learned in those moments that something draws us closer to the heart of God if we allow it. The planet is a magnificent creation, and experiencing it in fullness and appreciation, can be an act of worship toward the creator.
Traveling can expand the capacity of our hearts to love others– and that’s the goal of the Christian life.
A post shared by Benjamin L. Corey (@benjaminlcorey) on
When we expose ourselves to different cultures, we expose ourselves to people who are infinitely loved and valued by the heart of God. Traveling teaches us that while we are all different in many ways, we are all part of the one humanity reconciled through Christ. Through traveling, we learn to appreciate our commonalities while also learning to celebrate our differences.
Traveling has a way of confronting our biases, stereotypes, and even bigotry that we didn’t even realize existed in our hearts. It has a way of revealing our privilege, our sheltered bubbles, and our tendency to see our way as the way. And that confrontation can give birth to love, as we realize there are other ways of seeing, experiencing, and doing life on this planet.
As we realize and experience the reality of “they may live differently, but differently isn’t wrongly” and come to see our common humanity, we find our sheltered hearts begin to change into hearts of humility, appreciation, and love for others– especially others who are different.
When we learn to more deeply love others, we learn to more deeply love God– and there is no greater act of worship than this.
I am convinced that traveling– even if it is just an exploration that is slightly beyond the boundaries and culture you typically find yourself in, has a way of enhancing one’s spiritual life and drawing us closer to the heart of God.
As I look back, I am grateful that I have been able to have so many experiences in life where I stood in wonder of God’s creation. I am grateful for the vast exposure to people who are different than I am, grateful to have developed empathy for those who struggle more or differently, and grateful to have grown to appreciate and celebrate our commonalities and differences alike.
Some say that traveling is the greatest form of education, and I heartily agree with that. But traveling is also one of the greatest avenues to grow in your love for what God has created, and to expand the capacity of your heart to love your fellow image-bearers.
This love for expanding one’s horizons, growing the capacity of our hearts to see and love others, and the value of travel as a spiritual act of worship, is something I deeply long to pass on to the next generation– which is why in the future you’ll begin to see me talk a lot more about this.
Follow BLC on Facebook:
I need to get out more…
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” -Mark Twain
DH and I grew up in London but got our first jobs in a very rural area of the UK. It was so parochial – you couldn’t make it up. Kids capable of getting a place at Oxford or Cambridge whom my DH taught, refused to go any further than the local poor college 30miles away and were incredulous he should suggest anything else. More than one said they supported the local soccer team so would have to be near enough to attend matches every weekend. We didn’t want our kids to be like that and were able to move away when they were small. I am proud that a DD, 18yo, went to S Africa for 6m to work with HIVAIDS orphans. She quickly lost naivety when collecting babies from the gutter and cleaning maggots out of their wounds. She had a place at Oxbridge to read english, which she did but couldn’t forget those HIVAIDS kids and after graduation went straight into med school and is now a doctor.
I found travel (to Germany and France on military history trips) to be a real eye-opener. It lifted me out of the parochial mindset completely, and made me realise that there is a huge great big world out there. Full of people, who speak different languages but are otherwise just like me.
It puts everything ‘back home’ into perspective. You’ve just travelled 900 miles to go to Colditz Castle in the former East Germany, you’ve walked the paths they walked, you’ve seen the places where people lived and died, and you come back to work and find that the boss wants you to insert an extra semicolon in that document.
Somehow everything else seems petty when you’ve seen what you’ve seen, and spoken to the people you’ve met, and learned about what life and death was like in, for example, March 1942, at St. Nazaire where the Commandos did their suicidal mission to cripple the Joubert Dock in order to stop the Germans using it for the ‘Tirpitz’. And you’ve visited the war graves for both sides. You’ve seen the huge concrete U-boat pens from where the Germans launched their depredations against the Allied convoys.
Somehow life can never be the same again.
But this is for the best. It is indeed good to go overseas to see how the others live. They’re not all that different from those at home, you know.
I wrote the following on my blog back in 2006:
Traveling away from one’s home for vacation or work or vocation can change a person’s life.
What is it about travel that does that to a person?
1. Senses are heightened. Sights, smells and tastes are more intense. Memories are “burned” in more deeply.
2. When you are away, the usual cares and stresses of everyday life are gone. You are at attention.
3. Being in another culture helps you see things about yourself and your way of doing things that you take for granted, that you never even think about. It works two ways. It may cause you to confirm your existing way or it may suggest to you a better way.
4. The chance to be with people and share with them and develop new relationships always has assorted benefits.
4. In a different place and environment, one gets a chance to view things from a different perspective. One can rediscover one’s self.
6. One always benefits from learning the history of a place and the manner of its people.
I write this based on my experience since I spent the summers of 1970 and 1971, between college terms, in Holland, Germany and Austria, doing church work. The people I met, both the ones native to those places, as well as other Americans, are still vivid in my memories.
I am not only talking about trips abroad. Traveling in northern New Mexico, when I first began working, created a new set of experiences and feelings. The annual trips we made from Arkansas to Michigan to see grandparents while growing up is a part of who I am and what I am. When I was young, even going into remote (to me) regions of the county to smaller country churches, provided me with some memories of a world that has largely vanished and memories for which I’m grateful.
Traveling is an opportunity for spiritual growth.
Here is something interesting which I just came across: 10 Tips for Spiritual Travel from Joe Dispenza http://www.myprimetime.com/trainers/dispenza_tips/
I think all travel can be spiritual if you want it to be.
Traveling certainly changed me. Where I would probably have remained stuck in my ideas and notions about how the world “ought to be” learned from the culture I was born and raised in (U.S.A.), traveling helped me to see that there were other stories, other notions, other ideas, etc. that in turn helped me better understand my own story as well as the stories of others.
Having just got back from a trip myself in the German Alps, this article couldn´t be more than fitting right about now. Thanks!
I appreciate the points here, but I think you need to check your privilege, Ben. Would I love to travel to forty countries and expand my horizons? Of course. But when I barely have the gas money to get to Walmart and back, It’s galling to here about “Travelling as a form of Spiritual growth.”
Thanks for sharing. What a blessing you’ve been able to travel so much.
Good points, Benjamin. I’ve noticed that most of my most socially conservstive friends and kin are the ones who never left the country, or if they did, it was to visit “England,” which, while wonderful historically, isn’t all that broadening or culturally challenging. Taking “escorted” tours with other Americans of similar backgrounds isolated the traveler and sets up more “us vs them” perspectives. One needs to get out, get among ‘en and experience different people and cultures. Thanks!
Your picture of Austria reminds me of the wilderness of Alaska and Canada. If you’ve never been there, you should go (unless you mind the cold).