With 330 million people visiting religious sites around the world last year, time might be right for you and me to consider traveling with a touch of pilgrimage in our intentions.
Oh sure that notion could evoke painfully strict memories of some religious experience, but faith travel can as easily be welcoming, enthralling, fulfilling.
Faith-based travel opens so many opportunities for families with all their generations to appreciate and perhaps understand others a bit better.
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For sure you’ll discover grand photos and real opportunities to meet remarkable people. Here are six trips I took on purpose, seeking to understand the faith of others in new ways, in the places they live.
The community next door to Kansas City is home to two faith organizations that share 14 years of early history and then a split. They’re across the street from each other now with thoughtful tours of completely different personalities and architecture.
The Community of Christ is one; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints the other. They shared 14 years of 19th century history and then separated. Consider them different denominations and visit for the details.
Allow several hours and do both because the passion of the docents is good to observe in our culture of cynicism and skepticism.
Take the kids because the tours move fast and have enough interactive opportunities. Then take the kids on the mule-drawn wagon to delve into the Wild West frontier side of Independence.
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A man from South Africa named Mark Hennessey offered me advice hard to follow but still paying big dividends five years later.
“In India, put your Western attitudes in your back pocket. Experience everything in its own way here, not filtered through your life experiences.”
I’m pretty sure that’s why my India memories fill me still with richness: color, music, flavors, commitment of others.
Pilgrims in this vast land are highly visible. I became a pilgrim myself, privileged to observe the others and grasping religion as everywhere, not just church.
Sidewalk altars, blessings of corn and grains, gods and goddesses seeming to be art but inspiring deep attention to one’s own soul.
Riviera Maya, Mexico
The beaches of Cancun were readily available for R&R when I chose Mexico’s Riviera Maya to experience the annual Day of the Dead events – family gatherings to honor the dearly departed.
I didn’t know how to understand they are celebrations until I celebrated with lifelong residents, with shamans, with elders and children at the altars in their homes and yards and in the cemeteries.
By comparison, we Americans treat death with fear and trembling. In Riviera Maya families anticipate and prepare with abundant glee for the return of the dearly departed.
Happy too that those ancestors only return for a short time.
Don’t miss a chance for reverence when you choose a faith journey to Nepal. People are participating in worship all the time, everywhere.
Maybe even in massive traffic jams in the nation’s capital city Katmandu but I didn’t figure out how that works in my city streets journeys.
Prayer flags in primary colors, fresh and bright or tattered and torn equally fill souls because everyone know they are sending prayers for eternity with the wind horse. Long garlands of them fly everywhere.
Eyes of Buddha gaze from temple tops, creating a sense of the kind of calm one feels knowing someone who cares is paying attention.
Prayer wheels spin because everyone is touching them, releasing more prayer in the environment. Walking intentionally around a temple in nation next door to the top of the world joined me with pilgrims knowing in their hear of hearts that gently spinning the prayer wheel matters.
Sacred Valley of the Incas, Peru
I trusted my instincts when I booked a trip to the Willka T’ika guesthouse in Peru’s Sacred Valley. Saw an ad in Yoga Journal and believed.
Thirteen friends trusted too and together we became a band of pilgrims curious about the spiritual nature of the Andes Mountains.
Meet descendents of the Inca and share in the community of Qechua people, eat 400 kinds of potatoes, and discover new grains and greens.
Everything is mystical and intentional; ayni is the universal spirit of reciprocity so just feeling kindness is easy.
Magical Journey is the way to book this, a title, which is not overstated in my experience.
Machu Picchu is the fabled citadel, iconic photographs and experiences that live up to the reputation. Seeking the spiritual foundations of the Inca people who built this place and then disappeared is one goal.
Absorbing the joy of the pilgrims who journey here is another. Just sit on an ancient stone wall at the entrance and you’ll know you are surrounded by people believing they should show up here.
Hire a guide who totes an oxygen canister and hike to the Sun God Gate: that’s where people traveling the Inca Trail arrived for their first view of Machu Picchu.
Nab one of the 400 slots allowed each day and hike up Waynu Picchu behind the citadel; I did that and can guarantee it’s a tough climb.