God is becoming a popular travel companion.
With increasingly busy lives, many start to find themselves in spiritual lost and found. Old habits of including God in daily or weekly practices can easily give way to the need for some down time; the opportunity to get in a round of golf, or the pleasure of a quiet Sunday morning at home with a cup of coffee and a newspaper.
Sadly, church, for some, is becoming a hard place to find God. There is some stress in getting there on time, getting one's kids out of bed, making sure they are well groomed, getting one's chores all completed, and getting into the mental readiness to give up thanks and ask for help. The Who's Who who fill the rows are usually eager to scrutinize and socialize. Not everyone likes that.
Maybe people are starting to prefer more anonymity in their worship. Maybe the hymns have grown so outdated they are a chore for some to stand around and sing. Maybe the sermons we can stream into our lives from elsewhere appeal to us more than those we have access to locally. Maybe the scripted prayers leave us wanting more of a personal connection to God.
A great book that came out last year was "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church ... and Rethinking Faith" by David Kinnaman. The book is an interesting study on why people are leaving the church, and offers plenty of insights and information for those who want to understand the phenomenon better. Fallout in churches and synagogues is occurring in record numbers. Why is that?
Moreover, where do they go? Perhaps some of those exiting the pews are the same people who are looking for God in other places, on their own terms, when they have time.
Many ambitious, goal-driven people think of their lives in terms of categories: health, fitness, career, family, friends, fun, education, social causes they support. And spirituality is often one of these as well. They take inventory of progress in categories and determine which ones need attention.
Spirituality can easily be combined with travel. A growing trend in travel, right up there with adventure travel and weight-loss travel, is religious travel. Maybe those leaving the churches and synagogues, too, are packing their bags when they can, and bringing God into focus in faraway places.
Unlike (male) Muslims who must make the pilgrimage to Mecca once if they are able, Christians and Jews do not have an obligation to visit Israel. At Passover the words "Next Year in Jerusalem" are said, but with a hopeful tone. Nonetheless, many Jewish people try to go at least once. The more devout Christians enjoy walking in Jesus' footsteps and seeing the places talked about in the Bible. Israel is a deeply spiritual place, for several religions. Of the many places I've studied, worked, and lived in, Jerusalem still holds my vote for top spiritual place for Christians and Jews looking for more God and less everything else.
For Christians, Lourdes, France is another popular destination, with some 5 million visitors each year. It is said to be a place of miracles, and sightings of the Virgin Mary have been reported since 1859 when they started being recorded. By 1962 they had already recorded seven miracles. People can drink from the Lourdes Spring and offer prayers.
Some spiritual vacationers prefer the relaxing aspects of meditation, yoga, and breathing and choose places like Sedona, Ariz. Considered a spiritual place for Native Americans, it has emerged as a hub of modern spirituality and the climate is also inviting to many.
More serious yoga and meditation fans may decide to go to Himalayan retreats in Rishikesh, and elsewhere in India, to practice, learn, and participate in the ashram way, and return home with new insights.
In Costa Rica, the Arenal volcano attracts a spiritual type of tourist as well.
In Peru, Machu Picchu, high in the Andes, and Sacred Valley are both known for their spiritual retreats.
God can be an easy travel companion. For those who can't seem to find God locally, there sure are many other places to explore these days.
I am reminded of a religious man who was planning to go camping alone for his vacation. A friend asked him "Won't you be lonely out there in the woods by yourself?" He replied, "What are you talking about? I will most certainly not be alone."
Certainly some of how we encounter God comes from our own state of mind. But once in a while, it might be enlightening, relaxing and grounding to do a spiritual retreat. Some religious destinations are either free or very inexpensive, such as local monasteries or convents that may allow visitors.
The great thing is, wherever you choose to go, God will be there, too.