The spirituality of travel

By Margaret Treadwell

The summer I was 16, my rector and his wife (my godmother) invited their same age niece Mary and me on a European spiritual adventure. The purpose of their trip was to visit the surviving cathedrals he had grown to love during WWII. He had been an Army-Air Force pilot and on one terrible mission high in the clouds over Germany had a spiritual conversion that led to his ordination in the Episcopal Church after the war.

The cathedrals were awe- inspiring in their musty grandeur, especially the first one in Cologne, Germany, where we climbed the tower, looked out over the city and I felt God’s presence in a powerful way that I later defined as my own teenage conversion experience.

But by the time we arrived in Rome a couple of weeks later, Mary and I were lagging in our religious and spiritual interests, which left us open to exploring relationships instead. Those pesky, handsome Italian men who wouldn’t leave us alone gave our chaperons many laughs while they inadvertently taught me that meeting the inhabitants of a foreign land is as important a spiritual aspect of the journey as is the awesome architecture and art.

The people of Southeast Asia taught me this anew when my husband and I had the recent opportunity to spend several weeks there. He was on business, while I had a unique invitation to join the trip as a participant with few responsibilities. I hoped to open myself once again to the spirituality of travel and what I might find in four countries that together represent all the world’s great religions – Hinduism in Bali, Buddhism in Cambodia and Vietnam and Islam in Malaysia, a country that takes pride in living harmoniously with all religions. Christianity is growing in each of these countries.

Ban Hoang Xuan, our wise and gentle Vietnamese guide explained his conversion from the philosophy of Confucius – the worship of family ancestors so that one can become a good person to lead his own family. He laughed when I told him that some of us family therapists can fall into that worship trap too.

He then told his story about a friend who took him to a Christian church where he discovered a new way: “When I heard the preaching about salvation it made sense to me that we all need forgiveness from God and we can have it through Jesus, our savior who died for us. At first my parents and siblings thought I had abandoned them, but gradually they’ve accepted that I can participate in family celebrations for the dead without holding on to old superstitions because God is my Alpha and Omega. I think my faith is stronger for having risked family ties to live my Christian beliefs.” Ban met his wife at church, and now his 25-year-old daughter is engaged to a parishioner there with whom she teaches Sunday school.

Liv Gussing, the young general manager of Amandari Resort in Bali, and her assistant, Pitu Sudiari, personify the beauty, peace and harmony they strive for in their serene hotel. When I asked how they achieve this state of grace they talked about the practice of Balinese Hinduism: “Religious ceremony based on the Bali calendar envelops and blends in with our lives. Before we construct our buildings, we prepare a ceremony to bless the place and keep bad spirits away. Our homes have shrines for our rituals – in a corner of the house, in the courtyard and outside the gate. When I prepare family meals, I make offerings of some of the food to thank the gods for what we have. We also make blessings with water and incense throughout the day in our offices, hotels, restaurants and factories. We pray in thanksgiving and to ask for safety and security. Our temples are alive with ceremonies to honor our gods.”

Listening to these and other testimonials from people who have so little materially and so much spiritually, I gleaned a new slant on travel and the Great Commandment: “ Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” For me, this means first to seek and let shine my own joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and respect for differences. Only then can I appreciate those qualities of love in others when language barriers and diverse spiritual beliefs come to matter not at all.

“You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life. And you will have set in motion an ancient spiritual law: the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach

Margaret M. (“Peggy”) Treadwell, LCSW -C, has been active in the fields of education and counseling for thirty-five years. Following a long association with Dr. Edwin H. Friedman, during which she served on his faculty, she co-edited and helped posthumously publish his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.

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