More than a tourist
This fall I traveled through various countries in Asia, including Mongolia, China, Vietnam, and Laos, on a journey I’ll never forget. Arriving in China at the Beijing airport, I stood in line at the customs counter and felt overwhelmed. “What will this experience be like?” I wondered. “Will I be safe? Able to communicate? Able to acclimate?”
I wanted this adventure to have a spiritual focus. I wanted to look beyond cultural stereotypes. I was eager to see places like the Great Wall and the Forbidden Cityand to experience new cultures. But I didn’t want to be only a tourist. My goal was to see the face of God – to see the divine attributes of love, wisdom, vitality, and peace expressed – wherever I went. This is something I’ve been trying to do on a daily basis, wherever I am, and it was my hope to do the same on this trip.
Before leaving home, I’d spent time mentally preparing for the journey. Along with packing my suitcase and scouring guidebooks for things to do and places to stay, I found that the Bible had some helpful insights to take along. I liked this beatitude in particular: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). This divine promise eased my fear that I would arrive in new places and face culture shock. Certainly, I expected things to be different from the way they are in the United States, but I wanted to appreciate and glean new perspectives instead of feeling alienated or close-minded.
Other mental preparations for the trip included an idea from Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science. She wrote, “Fear never stopped being and its action” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 151). While Mrs. Eddy made that statement specifically when writing about physical healing, to me it includes all aspects of being. I knew from past experience that whether I was facing fear in my immediate neighborhood, concerns about starting a new job, or apprehension regarding travel to far-off places, fear didn’t have the ability to stop inspired action or a growing awareness of God and my ability to trust in the goodness of other people. Fear is the opposite of love because it impedes spiritual growth and mental clarity. This trip was the perfect opportunity to move beyond fear and see that we’re all part of the same family.
So, as I handed my passport to the customs officer at the airport, I didn’t feel afraid about my arrival, but felt appreciative and aware that I was seeing and would see God face to face with each helpful person and kind gesture.
Throughout the whole trip, I discovered an unmatched richness of history and culture, and a resourceful people who made me feel welcome and want to learn more. When living with host families, I was able to be less of a foreigner and more like a friend and family member. In Mongolia I was given the endearing nickname “Older Sister,” and in Laos I was called “Mother.” Even though we were coming from different cultural and religious backgrounds, we were finding common ground in the qualities of trust, respect, and care.
When challenging experiences came up during the trip, I learned to see more clearly that home and family aren’t so much material locations but spiritual concepts. Being spiritual, they are ever present; we carry them in our thoughts wherever we go and can experience them even when we’re far away from where we actually live.
Throughout the trip I gained a clearer understanding of how this concept of home can bring comfort, even when I’m not in familiar surroundings. I’d been dating a guy back in the US, and things had been off and on for several months. While I was traveling, we exchanged a few e-mails and finally agreed that the relationship just wasn’t working for either of us.
Breaking up with someone is hard, and being away from home seemed to make it even harder. I felt totally alone, and while there were times when I cried, there were also moments to think and pray deeply. I didn’t have to look far to feel comforted or see the familiar qualities of home with my host family. There they were, absolute strangers who had welcomed me and included me as a part of their family. I saw that love is universal. It never skips a beat and it is something that we can always turn to in times of need. I could even trust that my friend in the US was finding the love and support he needed.
So it’s not a cop-out answer or a cheesy thing to say that we are part of one family. An expanding sense or divine perspective of family has given me a greater appreciation of my brothers and sisters around the world. I’ve found that wherever I go and whatever challenges I face, I can feel that I am at home – that God is present in every place.
Originally published in The Christian Science Monitor, December 6, 2010.