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Making our Connections: The Spirituality of Travel – Pink Dandelion

March 19, 2017

I got this book partly out of having been intrigued, for several years, by the author’s name.

Do we travel in order to find or to escape ourselves?

We can travel more than we have ever had the ability to before. Indeed, travel is now part of everyday life for most of us, whether to or for work, or on holiday. This book looks at how we enhance the spiritual dimension of our lives as we constantly head off to somewhere else.  But it simply isn’t true that ‘Now the majority of us are online’ and the majority of the world’s population have never been on a plane.

Whether it be a long haul journey across the world, our regular commute to work, a short walk up our garden path or anything in between, this book looks at the intent and spirituality that we find in the act of travel, journeying – whether we are really aware of it or not. Utilising literature and film, along with studies on modes, and the history, of transport, this book might make us pause and consider the actions we take and contemplate too their deeper significance.

He rightly draws on the work of obsessive traveller Damien Galgut and is very well read.

Now I understand the attraction of being a biker.

He should learn to spell ‘hajj’ correctly.


It nurtures a desire to ‘meet’ and understand each other, not just to watch or observe. It nurtures a desire to see the whole world. I don’t present travel, then, as an environmental evil (although.we need to be very mindful of its impact), but as an obvious strategy for our desire to engage. The challenge, I suggest, is how we balance our spiritual motivations with the ease and delights of travel; the proliferation of the possibility (of mobility) often fed by consumerism and framed within an anxiety about time (feel­ing we must do what we can in the time we have). This book charts some of this challenge and offers a response.

The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, for example, are full of people led by God to travel or those who meet God on the road. Prophets have rarely sat 4 still in one place and often part of their call has been to travel. Pilgrimage has formalized holy travel, and we find millions travelling each year to enhance their faith through visiting par­ticular sites.

When Thomas Cook began his excursions in July 1841, aided by the new railway technology, he too saw these organized outings as a way of observing the Divine: ‘Surely there can be nothing inimical to religion in going abroad to behold the handiwork of the Great Supreme?’

In the USA, according to sociologist John Urry, people travel an average of 3o miles a day instead of the 5o yards they would have done in 1800 ( zor r, pp. t–z). The Hay Report in January 2012. reported that some people in Britain spend zo per cent of their income on getting to work. The Trades Union Congress report of 2012. showed that average daily commuting times varied throughout Britain between 44 minutes in Wales to 77 minutes in London and that averages were on the rise (Trades Union Congress 201 2). Our working days get longer.

This increase of holiday and work travel has a huge ecological cost. Urry claims that a third of all CO2 emissions are caused by transport (2011, p. 3). Our desire to travel erodes green space with the building of new airports or roads or railway lines as well as contributing to global warming.

What might be an idyllic journey may become an ordeal through overcrowding or delay.

Chains of standardized luxury western-style hotels mean we are taken from one home environment to another. We rebuild home abroad.

Travel has always featured in religious discourse. The Christian gospel teaching that a prophet is not honoured in their own land (Mark 6.4, for example) almost entails a divine instruc­tion to travel. God, it seems, has regularly told people where to go. Eve and Adam were the first biblical travellers, Cain was condemned to be a ‘wanderer on the earth’ (Gen. 4.13, NRSV), then Noah and his family were taken across the flood waters in their Ark. Jacob was nomadic, Joseph was taken to Egypt, and later Moses escaped from Egypt to be told to go back and deliver God’s people to ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’ (Exod. 3.8). kishua completed this mission. Rarely is a reason given; the instruction is its own authority. In the New Testament, Mary and Joseph needed to travel to Bethlehem for the census and then fled to Egypt with their new baby, Jesus, to escape Herod’s envy. Jesus travelled widely, finally to Jerusalem on a donkey. Paul met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. The apostles travelled extensively. It is travel that is largely ‘led’ or instructed by God.

Fox travelled throughout Britain, to western mainland Europe and to North America and his Journal (Smith 1998) reads like a travelogue. He was what I call a ‘pure travel­ler’ in that travelling was his mode of life rather than additional to some other activity. He travelled rather than stayed in one stable place, because he felt instructed by God to travel. Both Fox and fellow Quakers like George Robinson talk of being commanded by God to leave home. Thus travel was part of a general obedience to call. Travelling was faithfulness.

Miles Halhead’s wife said she wished she had married a drunkard rather than a Quaker as at least she would know where to find him.

By 1911, 55 percent of the population of England and Wales had at least one week by the sea each year (Urry zoo2, p. i8). The growth of institutionalized holidays for the working classes into week-long holidays, wakes weeks, became standard in order to achieve a greater reliability of production in the other 51 weeks. In 195o, a million Britons went abroad (Brendon 1991, p. 292.). Today, ‘holiday’ has become disassociated from its etymological root of being a holy-day.

There is the idea, expressed by David Lodge’s fictional ‘ academic Rupert Sheldrake in Paradise News (1991), that in our secular society, tourism has replaced pilgrimage, and that tourism represents a secularized version of the holy journey. He relates: ‘The thesis of my book is that sightseeing is a sub­stitute for religious ritual. The sightseeing tour as secular pil­grimage. Accumulation of grace by visiting the shrines of high culture. Souvenirs as relics. Guidebooks as devotional aids’ . More than this, I suggest, all our travel today, not just tourism, is framed within the processes of seculariza­tion. When we are the agents of travel, both in its motivation and its realization, our travel is not explicitly connected to thespiritual realm.

We can buy a trip to Lourdes, or Taize, or book a deluxe Haj or Umrah package. We can combine piety with en-suite luxury.

We become not only the author of itineraries but the authors of our own leadings. Are we led by ‘God’ or by our own prefer­ences? It is interesting, as John Knox found in a study of church life in Oregon, that even among those of us who still attend church, we tend to choose those settings which most affirm our own ideas. Even within our spiritual life, we become our own authorities, a phenomenon Knox calls `sacro-egoism’ . Maybe we have travel-egoism too.

Alain de Botton calls journeys the midwives of thought: ‘Few places are more conducive to internal conver­sations than a moving plane, ship, or train . . . At the end of hours of train-dreaming, we may feel we have been returned to ourselves — that is, brought back into contact with emo­tions and ideas of importance to us’ . One friend told me how long train journeys operate for him as a ‘rinse cycle’, as if he had been placed in a washing machine to come out cleansed at the other end.

We are often rushed or rushing and travel is not often peaceful. The journey becomes the part of the time away from home to ‘get through’. It can become an experience of ordeal rather than ideal.

Quakers talk of `expectant waiting’ as they settle into their still and silent worship. Is an hour’s delay a time for prayer or to gather a sense of the spiritual connectedness of all of creation or just time to be filled?

although going through security could make travel feel more like its etymological root, ‘travail’  (work!)

let us not outrun our guide, or, to quote the bumper sticker, ‘Never travel faster than our angel can fly’!

Augustine is said to have claimed: ‘The world is a great book, of which they that never stir from home read only a page’

Maya Angelou writes: Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. We need hours of aimless wandering or spates of time sitting on park benches observing the mys­terious world of ants and the canopy of tree tops.

If we step away for a time, we are not, as many may think and some will accuse, being irresponsible, but rather we are preparing ourselves to more-ably perform our duties and discharge our obligations.

When I return home, I am always surprised to find some questions 1 sought to evade had been answered and some entanglements I had hoped to flee had become unraveled in my absence.

A day away acts as a spring tonic. It can dispel ran­cor, transform indecision, and renew the spirit.

As Richard Rohr has said: ‘We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking’

‘Tis the gift to be simple,…….And when we find ourselves in the place just right, It will be in the valley of love and delight.

We may not travel in order to reduce our carbon footprint. In a context of restlessness driven by western institutions and seductive symbols of power, not travelling can be seen in terms of resistance, not limitation. To not travel at all

may allow us to find enchantment on our doorstep. The Zen saying goes: ‘Sitting quietly doing nothing, spring will come and the grass will grow by itself.’ Living locally, we can find the exotic more locally, and find that the new ‘away’ is ‘here’ ­staying put has become rare and exotic.

For some of us, we may need to migrate to find home. Anne-Marie Fortier writes of many lesbians and gay men who have had to escape ‘home’ in order to find their real homes, their more authentic places of identity and relationship

Richard Rohr writes: It’s a gift to joyfully recognize and accept our own small­ness and ordinariness. Then you are free with nothing to live up to, nothing to prove, and nothing to protect . . . once you know that your ‘I’ is great and one with God, you can ironically be quite content with a small and ordinary ‘I’. No grandstanding is necessary. Any question of your own importance or dignity has already been resolved once and for all and forever.

The holy is everywhere and we need not go far to find it, but equally we should go nowhere without it.

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