I walked into my professor’s office and crumbled into the sofa. “I don’t know if I can keep doing this,” I blurted. “Every time I travel I get sick or anxious or so angry at the world that I’m a miserable person.” My professor looked at me in his wise way and replied, “Well, Rachel, you know it’s not going to stop. You’re going to be traveling a lot on the path you’re on.” My only response to him was a deep sigh. I felt myself tearing up. I loved the work that I was being called to do but I hated getting there.
Seeing my distress, my professor picked up a book and handed it to me. “Take a look at this and give it a try,” he offered. The book in my hands was The Art of Pilgrimage: A Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, by Phil Cousineau. The wisdom of that book and my professor’s guidance travels with me still.
I arrived in Amman, Jordan, at 5:00 p.m., March 11, after 24 hours of travel. I had been visiting one of my dearest college friends in Austin, Tex. From Austin I flew to New York City (via Baltimore) to join the United Church Press Tour in our adventure to Jordan. A remarkable mix of university spring breaks and bad weather created airport chaos beyond anything I have experienced.
Many years ago, in my professor’s office, I was introduced to the practice of transforming travel into pilgrimage. When surrounded by tedious lines, embarrassing security measures, and frustrating people, I withdraw into my core to pause, pray, and smile.
In these moments I am reminded that I have a small amount of power to make someone else feel better. A smile trumps a nasty comment. A laugh breaks through frustration and a simple explanation of procedure can make someone’s day go so much more smoothly. In the end, these little moments of pause, prayer, and joy help me to reflect on the Spirit moving within and beyond the chaos.
And it is this Spirit that I discover in all the people that I meet, however random. For example, there were many groups flying on my flight to Jordan. When I arrived in New York a U.S. Army training unit befriended me in the check-in line. They were traveling to Jordan for three weeks to teach the Jordanian army. All of the people I talked to in that line were extremely friendly and interested in the work that was bringing me to Jordan. We helped each other out as we navigated the airport chaos and joked about the different natures of our work.
Of the 24 members of their unit, four were women. Surprisingly I was seated on the plane next to one of these women. During the flight I worked on several writing projects including a piece of curriculum on just peacemaking for the National Council of Churches (NCC). One of the goals of the NCC, outlined in the study paper A Christian Understanding of War in an Age of Terrorism, deals with the facilitation of dialogue between military personal and peace-builders. I almost laughed out loud while working with that goal while sitting next to my new friend.
The closeness of military and peace-building efforts is a phenomenon experienced much more often here in the Middle East (and other places in the world) than in the U.S. My time of travel today challenged me to live into my belief that there is that of God in everyone, including the stranger, the solider, and screaming child in line ahead of me. Tomorrow the journey continues.
published first at the blog of Friends Journal