Traveling changes one’s life. I’m sure anyone who has done much of it–especially abroad–would agree. There’s something about the displacement and discomfort of being in an alien place, coupled with the awesomeness of seeing things you’ve never seen before and blowing open the doors of any prior conceptions of “what this world is.” Travel enlarges one’s view of existence.
When I traveled to Southeast Asia the summer after my first year of college (my first experience overseas), I first encountered the life-changing potential of the experience of being abroad. Subsequent trips to Europe and Japan confirmed what I suspected–that there is an unmistakably spiritual aspect to travel. It’s good for the soul. It brings you closer to God. In my case, it enhanced my faith.
I recently got the chance to explore this aspect of travel in depth in a feature article in Biola Magazine. In the article (“Dispatches From Abroad: How a Change of Scenery Can Enliven Our Faith”), I explore the various meanings of travel in the Christian experience, situating our contemporary perceptions of the spirituality of travel in the larger Christian tradition which goes back to the origins of our our faith:
Movement and travel have always been part of the Christian experience. So many of the giants of the faith have been travelers — from Abraham (whom God called to “leave your country” … Gen. 12:1) to Paul to the itinerate evangelists of the 19th century. And, of course, there is also Jesus himself, who from birth was a bit of a roving exile, frequently homeless and dependent on the hospitality of others on the routes he traveled.
Why is it that the journeying, nomadic lifestyle been such a hallmark of the Christian experience?
In his famous essay, “The Philosophy of Travel,” George Santayana wrote, “There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar: it keeps the mind nimble, it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.”
A Christian might add that it enriches our identification with Christ and draws us closer to his presence by removing status quo comforts.
In some ways travel can be a sort of “monasticism on the move,” writes Iyer. “On the road, we often live more simply … with no more possessions than we can carry, and surrendering ourselves to chance.” …
And perhaps this is the greatest thing we can learn from travel — that the Christian experience is not meant to be one of cushy comforts, self reliance and satisfaction with the way things are, but rather an experience of dependence on God and seeking out the sometimes-overwhelming grandeur and complexity of God’s kingdom.
Travel is a way to meet Christ on the road and to feel the reality of his redeeming work in the world — not just by reading about it in a book, but by experiencing it in the flesh.
In his article on pilgrimage (“He Talked to Us on the Road,” April 2009) in Christianity Today, Ted Olsen points to the story of the Road to Emmaus as an example of how travel — what we encounter in person on “the road” — can transform our understanding of a thing. The men on the road to Emmaus knew about the Resurrection, but they didn’t know it in a transformative way until Christ appeared to them and they eventually realized who he was.
“It goes deeper than just grasping an event’s historicity,” writes Olsen. “It goes to its happenedness. We are not just minds created to soak up knowledge. We are bodies that stand in one place at a time, seeing and feeling our surroundings.”
Travel is about more than just knowing God’s goodness in our minds. It’s about seeing and tasting and feeling it in his created world, and in our fellow man. And though strangers we may be in this world, the reality is that God is here, working in remarkable ways.
To travel is to meditate on God’s blessings and his rich creation; it is to experience his faithfulness and trust him in ways you just can’t do in the comforts of your own culture and comfort zone. At times it can even be an act of worship.
In Travels With Charley, John Steinbeck memorably writes about “the urge to be someplace else,”contending that, “When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find in himself a good and sufficient reason for going.”
I would suggest that for a Christian, a “good and sufficient reason for going” is simply this: We are God’s creatures, commanded to take joy and pleasure in the multi-facetedness of his goodness (“taste and see…” Psalm 34:8). When there is so much of that to experience in the world, why would we want to stay home?