I was in the middle of the Scottish Highlands, surrounded by wild, rugged snowcapped mountains. The quaint pub I was in, near Loch Ness, was located in the town of Fort William, not too far from Inverness. As I sat there sipping my ridiculously priced (and ridiculously good) glass of scotch, letting the warmth of the drink flow through me, and felt the warmth of the wood fire beside me in our booth, I couldn’t help but think it was one of the most contented moments of my twenty some years on earth. I simply basked in the moment, in the feeling of finally having arrived somewhere I always hoped I would end up.
The feeling was probably enhanced by being the only relatively quiet moment of a break-neck paced two week journey through Ireland and Scotland. As much as we had enjoyed our fellow tour companions, traveling around for days on end with two dozen heavy drinking, karaoke loving, cheery Australians was not as relaxing as one might guess. So, as it was, that glowing, crackling fire beside me and the soft hum of conversation by the bartender and a local across the room felt like the quiet, but still active moments before mass begins. As I neared the end of my glass, my husband returned and sat down with my second glass and his own locally made beer. I looked up at him to offer a blissful smile of gratitude for finally agreeing to accompany me on this trip, but I was caught off guard by the utterly new expression on his usually carefully guarded face. It was wonder I saw.
He had spent his childhood following baseball wherever it called, and it had taken him to different locations across the South. When in a new city or town, however, the entire time was spent playing ball, so he ended up having experienced very little even though he had travelled quite a bit in the United States. There was nothing inherently wrong with his upbringing- he genuinely loved baseball, and doesn’t regret a moment he dedicated to it. Traveling hadn’t been on his radar, though, just like exercise still isn’t on mine. His laser focus on his goal of becoming a professional baseball player had made it difficult for much of anything else to get his attention. I was just thankful I had been able to grab his attention long enough to convince him to walk down the aisle a short four months before this delayed honeymoon. Trying to convince my single-minded, college baseball playing husband that his two weeks of rest over winter break, before the spring season began, would be well spent gallivanting across the British Isles was an understandably hard sell. Plus, the price tag seemed awfully high for something he didn’t actively want to do. I have been known to wear people down, however, and out of sheer desperation to have me shut up, he agreed to go. I think he initially thought of the trip as something he had to simply get through, maybe with a little help of Jameson and Glenfiddich along the way. But somewhere along that way, he had accidentally become an active participant. Somehow, God had used every new thing he had experienced to bring him to a new awareness not just of the world, but of God himself.
I was prepared to recognize this new awareness in him, because I had experienced it myself at fourteen. I was on my first trip out of the United States to Spain and Portugal with my grandfather, who had graciously allowed my mom and me to tag along for a conference. Having grown up Protestant, I had never been exposed to Catholic art and architecture and the ornate cathedrals we visited left me feeling elated. They left me feeling as though I hadn’t just encountered priceless art, but God himself. Little did I know at that time, as I would discover six years later, Jesus was actually uniquely present in those churches, in the tabernacle, beside a hanging lit candle I didn’t know the purpose behind. As I discovered on my first trip, and as I knew my husband was discovering in that very moment in the pub, travel doesn’t just give us a way to conquer a bucket list and impressive photos to post on social media. Travel, as we have experienced it, expands our sense of geography, of time, of the human experience, and of our connectedness with everything on earth, and even in heaven. Ultimately, and even ideally, travel expands our sense of God. Every new food, every conversation, every sight, but especially every person, is an opportunity to experience and encounter God in a new way.
Somehow, travels gives us the ability to become more aware-of ourselves, of others, and of our surroundings. As my husband realized that night, he wasn’t on that trip to simply experience what there was to experience. He was there to realize God was chasing him through every experience. Every sight, taste, and encounter was a new opportunity, an invitation even, to see God. The truth is, when my husband and I travel, and let a place seep into us as we did that night, we can’t help but be changed. Our sense of awe points us to God and our sense of the largeness of the world, humbles us. The more we travel, the more we find to marvel at. Natural beauty, magnificent man-made cathedrals, and even smaller things, like drinking scotch in a cozy pub, are sign posts, directing our attention to a greater reality.
We stayed there soaking up the warmth of the fire, enjoying our drinks, and talking for several hours. We could have stayed longer, but our travel companions decided to come in as well, and the spell was broken. But the awareness stayed. And as we hiked up a mountain on the Isle of Skye the next day, and I watched my husband take in the stunning views at the top, I knew he wasn’t just seeing a pretty sight, he was seeing God.