As I type this, I am riding a train from Stockholm to Gothenberg, Sweden. We are traveling with my Dad, his partner, Helen, and my sister, Pam, to meet some cousins in Sweden and Norway!
As we sat on the plane for our flight, Dan remembered a story his parents told about their first trip to Germany. They sat behind a family in church and marveled at how well their children spoke German; youth in the US don’t speak so fluently until high school! Their next thought was, “how stupid can be?!” Of course German was these children’s first language, not English as in the US.
We bring all of our cultural assumptions, expectations, and habits with us everywhere we go, and that’s why especially, international travel is good for the soul. It expands our frame of reference! It’s easy to make the leap that our way of doing things is not only the best way, but perhaps even the only way to do things. Visiting another country pops a hole in our assumptions and our “normal” framework. Since there are other ways of dressing, navigating the streets, building a house, or running a government, then maybe there are also different ways of seeing and experiencing God, too! How does someone of a different culture view religion and experience spirituality? And if I can be curious about this with someone of another culture, can I also then, be curious about and dialog with my own neighbor who is different from me?
Travel opens our heart and mind to the rich variety of creation and ways of living. But even if I cannot afford the time or expense of getting on a plane, I can be open and curious about those who live near me. St. Louis has the largest Bosnian population outside of Bosnia; I can expand my life and view of the world by befriending and welcoming them.
The Apostle Paul reminds us to be “transformed by the renewing of our mind” (Romans 12:2); and this renewing begins by expanding our frame of reference, and opening ourselves to new ways of thinking and living. Sr. Carla Mae Streeter, Professor Emerita at Aquinas Institute of Theology, identifies such operations of consciousness as functions of our spirituality.
We have learned that our Swedish cousins receive a year of new parent leave from work with 80% pay, and the father's are required to take at least a month! Their summer house includes small cabins for each family unit so the extended family can be together. We loved learning about this more integrated way of balancing family and work and play!
So be sure to take a trip this summer--if not across the world, then perhaps across town or across the street, to engage in dialog with someone you don’t know or understand! It will indeed be good for your soul as it creates an opening for the Spirit to move within your heart and mind.
This is the first time I have typed and posted an entry from my phone, and this is also good for my soul! I even posted this picture from my phone of my Dad (on right) with his Swedish cousin, Kjell! Ja ja!