We engage in countless activities in our lives, many of which we may overlook as opportunities to enrich us spiritually. Travelling is one such activity that we all engage in to some extent, but probably do not consider in terms of being a spiritual practice. This Sunday we will explore how travelling can indeed provide enrichment to our spiritual journeys.
Lori Kyle joined the UUCD family as our congregation's spiritual leader in October 2014. Following her recent successful interview with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in Boston, Lori will be ordained at Toronto First on June 14, 2015. Lori is a native of Kansas City, Missouri and moved to Canada in 2009 with her family. Currently she resides in eastern Toronto with her partner Margaret, her children Maddie and Nathan, and their yellow lab Sally.
The complete sermon can be read below:
As some of you know, today’s sermon topic was chosen today by Cynthia Garland, as the winner of the action bidding for the name-your-own-sermon-topic item. When I learned that she had requested the topic of the spirituality of travel, I asked her if she would be willing to share some of her thoughts about how travel is spiritual for her. Since it was her hand picked topic, I wanted to somehow incorporate her experience of it into our message today. So I emailed her, asking her to share some thoughts. And this was her response…
- Where to start?
- I guess at the beginning.
- When planning a trip the anticipation for me slowly builds, and excitement, as I plan, increases as I anticipate seeing the sights I will see, or the people who I will meet or reconnect with.
The joy of anticipation here to which she speaks, which we’ve all experienced, is palpable… looking ahead, looking forward to connecting with people who bring meaning to our lives.
- As I pack I think through each day and what I will need.
There’s depth in this thoughtfulness.. of engagement, purpose, mindfulness. What do I need to sustain me for my journey?
- I'm not thinking this is very spiritual.
- As I'm sitting on the plane or in the car I pass the time in various ways, reading or listening to music, or talking with my travel companions.
“Pass the time.” How often do we use these words in our daily, hustle and bustle lives? When we can catch our breath and just be, and enjoy being and doing or not doing, as we choose. How often do we do this in the busy-ness of our everyday lives? The freedoms that accompany the downtime of the actual act of traveling can be one of the sweetest and most centering parts of the adventure.
- I see the world, the landscape rolling by minute after minute, hour after hour, seeing the scenery change.
When I read this I have a visual of looking at consecutive frames of a film, or the frames of drawings that make up a cartoon, going by before my eyes. Or one of those books where each picture is slightly different, and as you rapidly flip through the pages, the movement, the story is visually experienced. The story of the landscape is constantly being told to us, and it’s when we’re relaxed and at ease, such as while travelling, that we can more fully appreciate its story.
-Travelling with someone is a rather intimate process, and you can have lengthy philosophical conversations uninterrupted.
Travelling indeed can be an intimate process. How many times have you heard it said, or said yourself, that you don’t know how you really function in relation to someone until you travel with them?
We experience each other in the best of times and sometimes in the most trying of times. We’re out of our comfort zone, and thus our truest selves sometimes come to the fore because we don’t have the comforts and familiarity of home base to help mask or smooth over those unexpected wrinkles.
And then there are those uninterrupted philosophical conversations, which often occur with complete strangers! We’ve all had them. We are randomly seated beside someone, and each of you is a captive audience because nobody’s going anywhere for a while, and the loveliest of connections can arise. Short lived as they are, real connections do occur, and when the time comes to disembark a small sense of loss is felt.
- You see the same sights change at different times of the year, going to the same place during the fall, winter, spring or summer. You marvel at the wonder of nature.
The wonder of nature, of the changing of seasons, occurs wherever we are, including, of course, where we live. But when we’re away from home, we’re free to more fully appreciate it for the simple wonder that it is, because we’re not encumbered with the drudgery that we sometimes associate with such changes…back aches that come with the first snowfall on our driveways. Thousands of leaves, that keep falling in the autumn, even 2 minutes after we’ve completed our raking. Those little buds from blossoming trees in the spring, that continue to fall 2 minutes after we’ve cleared them off of our decks and patio furniture.
When we travel and those chores aren’t ours to take on, we can more readily see the diamond-like glistening of newly fallen snow, more freely hear the crunch of fallen twigs and brittle leaves under our steps, more openly notice the heavenly fragrance that those springtime blossoms bring.
- When there are construction delays or airplane delays you are forced to slow down and take stock and it may be time for a forced meditation.
Ah, those FORCED meditations! We were reminded of this a couple Sundays ago when we explored mindfulness central to Buddhist practice. Of course taking advantage of these unplanned moments of being held up isn’t something Buddhists have a corner on. Delays when we travel are simply another level of invitation to be away from busy-ness - even the activity of travel – to go within oneself.
Prayer has ritual and travel has ritual:
packing, planning, gassing up, getting tickets, maps, making reservations, following the road, getting to the airport.
How many of us have ever appreciated the preparations for travel through the lens of ritual? And yet there’s truth in this observation. We reserve ritual for important moments and events, not for the trivial and mundane. There is a comfort in rituals; they help us to know who we are, and how we make meaning in the world.
Preparation for travel is not unlike the preparations that went in to our gathering this morning. It only appears to be going through the motions if you’re not paying attention to what’s underneath it. When we place our hymnals around, and bring forth our chalice to symbolize light and life, and get plugged in so that our voices can be heard…it’s all in preparation for moments to come that have significance, that bring meaning to our lives.
And then Cynthia’s words become not only words of wisdom, but also beautifully poetic, words that stand alone, needing no commentary, that encompass her spiritual experience of travel.
At the airport going through customs or security line-ups is like a labyrinth.
Picking up or reclaiming your luggage is like communion.
Traveling in the dark is like an evening candle lite service.
There are lots of reasons to travel and there are lots of reasons to pray.
I feel richer after I've travelled somewhere and I feel richer after church.
And then Cynthia ended her thoughts with these two sentences…
I'm hoping this is what you are looking for.
There isn't much here.
The mere choosing of the topic of travel as a spiritual one highlights an appreciation of the potential for depth in a “secular” activity that might be overlooked by some. But to overlook the spiritual component of travel is to overlook its virtue.
Mary Oliver touched on this when addressing the beholding of beauty. She says:
Beauty without purpose is beauty without virtue.
But all beautiful things, inherently, have this function -
to excite the viewers toward sublime thought.
Glory to the world, that good teacher.
The same could be said for travel…travel without purpose is travel without virtue. But all travel has the potential to be virtuous – to excite the sojourner toward broadened thought and deeper understanding.
Indeed, the world, the big and diverse world…is a good teacher.
As is the case with all learning, we are transformed by the experiences and exposures of travel. I think that’s why it feels a bit surreal to come back home from travel.
You know that feeling, when you are arriving back in town, then your neighbourhood, then your driveway, and finally over the threshold into your home, and it all feels a little surreal.
I wonder if the reason for this is that we are not coming back as the same person who left however many days ago. And therefore we don’t fit perfectly back into the niche that is our lives because we’ve changed to some extent.
That might sound a bit disconcerting, that we can count on somehow shedding part of our old skin for something new. But I agree with John Shedd who said, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”
We were made for the stretching and transforming that travel offers. That’s why our skin is pliable, and ultimately shed-able. We were created to grow and stretch and be transformed into fuller, more enlightened versions of ourselves.
One way that travel enlightens me is through making our 7th principle much more real. The idea of respecting the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part bursts to life when I am able to actually see, touch, taste, hear and smell other parts of the world.
I remember feeling a deep sense of universal connection on a trip I made to Assisi, Italy, home of my dear St. Francis. Upon entering Assisi, a beautiful and quaint town nestled into an Italian hillside, I had a sense of being at home.
The feeling grew stronger as the five days went by that I was there, until, when it came time to leave, I felt then, and continue to feel to this day, that I left a bit of myself back there. Being there fostered within me a connection to that town, and to myself, as well as a general sense of being connected in the world. These watershed moments that don’t happen frequently are difficult to articulate. But I’ll we know the depth of experience that they bring.
All this talk of travel may sound exotic and adventurous, and even inspiring. But it might also end up seeming somewhat irrelevant if you don’t travel, for whatever the reason. Perhaps you don’t have financial means to do so. Travelling is an expensive activity, and not of us can afford to engage in this luxury.
May we never overlook how exceedingly fortunate we are to have a standard of living, which accommodates not only our base needs, but also includes the option of travel.
For others of us, we’re not able to travel, because of physical and other limitations. Do any of these limitations mean that our message today doesn’t is then irrelevant?
Of course it applies to one and all. Travel is something that can occur externally, when our bodies going from physical place to physical place.
And it can occur within us.
Henry Miller appreciated this when he said, “One's destination is never only a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
Are we not adventurers and explorers when the landscape of our journey is one within oneself? Is there not an entire world within that awaits discovery by our bold and adventurous selves?
Our responsive reading today said, “The beginning of a circle is always its end.” Our travels are ultimately journeys that bring us back around full circle to ourselves, to enrich who we are.
May the self that experiences the journey, and comes back around full circle to that beginning place, be an inspired self,
someone who understands more fully,
who feels more deeply,
whose knowing is expanded,
and who can now more fully appreciate the interconnection of all things, which renders us at home regardless of where we find our feet.
So may it be.
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