If you missed the first two installments of this series, start here with hospitality and continue with beauty

Americans can be so small-minded. We can be out of touch with what life is really like in other parts of our land and especially in other countries. We can so easily think that our community and its values are the center of the universe. Or that there aren’t equally good (if not better) ways of doing things in other regions of the world. Or believe that the same level of professionalism we live by is not practiced in other places (especially in Africa, gasp!).

For these reasons and so many more, I believe travel is good for the soul.

Not only is travel a reality check for our prejudge, but it can be one of the best spiritual disciplines we can build into our yearly schedule.

Getting out of town. Seeing something new. Saving our funds for an international trip (if possible).  Why? Because our eyes are widely opened. We can not return from travel being the same people when we left.

In our shock we are reminded:

Not everyone speaks English . . .

Electricity or hot water is not always a given . . .

There’s no such thing as fast food on every corner . . .

And in traveling, we see the world as it really is instead of just what we know (especially if we're operating from a place of privilege).

This week, I’m in East Africa in the process of starting something new connected to orphan care. Something new I can’t wait to tell you all about when the all plans come together.FullSizeRender

But for now, this is what I know: the opportunity to travel changes everything about your sight.

Even though Kevin and I spent 3 years on the road as nomads while he held a position at Feed the Children and were gifted to see so much in so many countries, I’ve realized once again that a culture is never something you “know” no matter how many times you visit a particular place.

This trip I’ve learned, as I do every time I visit.

Things like mice can be black (not just white or grey like they are in the children’s storybooks I grew up reading). The cat brought one to the doorstep of where I am staying!black-mouse

Things like flying ants are creatures that come up from the ground and swarm after a strong hot rain. But they’re harmless and often die by morning (and can be consumed as good protein).flyant9

And things like it’s best to be home before the rains come, always. Traffic can be at a complete standstill. Often a standstill that lasts 12 hours meaning you sleep in your cars on the side of the road!

Travel, you see, takes you from a posture of “I know” to “I must learn” (if it’s done right). Travel takes away the arrogance of always being in the right.

What a spiritual life lesson this is! For isn’t God ultimately the One we come to call Mystery? The One who is beyond us? The One we come to understand in the same vein of this Thomas Merton prayer:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so."

I know that budgets in many households can be tight year after year, and it is often it is the weekend out-of-town or the vacation that is first to go. But, the next time you have some extra income and you’re faced with the choice of buying a thing and the experience of travel, choose travel, my friends.

Travel will be good for your soul.

For, as you go, you might just find yourself meeting a new friend, tasting a new dish, or learning a new song that will be God coming close.

I know God has been close to me all week. And I’m so grateful.

If you missed the first post in the “Good for the Soul” series, check it out here.

Beauty. It’s a word that we often associate with descriptions of people, objects or even to talk about our relationship with nature.

But more than this, beauty is often beyond words or a qualitative object. Beauty can be something that we experience or hear.  And after we recognize it, often the only way we know how to talk of the experience is to say, "That was so beautiful!"

On Sunday night, I found myself overwhelmed by beauty. It was an encounter I didn't plan to attend but just happened. Some friends invited me to a compline service at Christ Church in Rochester, NY (while I was in the city for another event).  1445529811_10988965_10153027488100938_5800010027155432086_o

If you aren't familiar (I wasn't), a compline is a nightfall service that celebrates the end of the working day. The English word compline is derived from the Latin completorium, as compline is the completion of the working day. It's ancient tradition most likely begun around the time of St. Benedict in the 4th century that was celebrated by monks. But it's a tradition that remains today mostly in Anglican communities but sometimes found in Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches. Most of all, it's a service which draws upon several sensory experiences of darkness, light, quiet, sacred space, vocalists and instruments.

When I walked into Christ Church minutes before the 9 pm compline began, the room was dark only lit by candles at the ends of pews and on the altar. The church was packed with worshippers. The only seats left for us to take came on the front right pew. So with a great view of the altar, I quickly turned off my phone as stillness engulfed the room. These weekly worshippers knew to quiet their souls for what came next.  I followed their lead.

Out of the stillness, a large pipe organ in the balcony began with a prelude—triumphant but mellow tune. Then, a group of no more than 30 vocalists and accompanist alike processed in through the side doors finding their place in front of music stands lit by candles.  More moments of silence preceded their first words.

Then, over the course of the next thirty minutes the congregation heard chants based on Psalms in perfect harmony. Words sung about being “Blessed and kept through the whole night" followed a sung version of the Lord’s Prayer. Then during several sung pieces, the choir kept time by tapping one another with their right hand on the person’s beside them shoulder. But with the darkness all around, never did I focus my attention on a particular musician nor the people sitting beside me. Rather, I found myself closing my eyes and taking in the sounds. Sometimes my gaze went toward a particular candle. chapel-complineHoly-Week-at-King's-2008-120

When the music ended, two altar assistants dressed in black robes processed to the front of the church. No one in the congregation moved. Then, candle by candle they extinguished each of the flames. We remained silent until the last bit of light on the altar was gone.

Though no one pastor said, "Go in peace" it was exactly how we left.

I later learned from one of the members of the choir that the compline is the most well-attended service all week.

The richness of this seemingly beloved service made me think again about the constant pressures of our modern lives—phones beeping, appointments every hour on the hour and 24-hour news everything. Our souls must be so tired.

But the beauty of this experience woke us all up.

We realized again that quiet is the best gift we can give our soul.

We were reminded that even in darkness there is light.

We saw signs of unity modeled for us by worship leaders.

Attending the compline modeled again for me that none of us is ever really alone. We belong to each other. We belong to God.

And if this isn’t beauty, I don’t know what is!

It was so good for my soul.

(Maybe this ancient tradition of worship is something your congregation—especially if it has access to trained musicians—is something that might bless your community. You can read more about it here).