PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — Traveling On The Spiritual Path

I usually begin planning my next trip during the waning days of the one I’m on, so this summer is more than a bit unusual. I have no bookmarked spots in Tripadvisor, no routes saved on Google Maps, no flights booked. I am not planning anything, except surgery on my foot, since I’m not going anywhere.

My hobby is traveling. I love nothing more than getting out and exploring new places and experiencing different ways of life through the back door, getting off the beaten track to find hidden gems at discount prices. I love meeting people from different walks of life and expanding my horizons. I read to find new worlds and I travel to explore them.

But this pandemic has changed my plans, so that I have nothing planned.

Being the hopeless optimist, I refuse to believe that my travelling days are over, or at least my travels abroad. They may be different, and it may not be for a while, but I still need to see Marrakech and Machu Picchu and the Pyramids and Antarctica, and I believe someday I will.

But for now, I know I am staying put. So rather than focus on what is abroad, I have turned my focus and my energy to what is within.

For me as a traveler, that means exploring Connecticut a bit more. I desperately miss my monthly trips to New York City and Boston, as well as hiking in the Berkshires or walking the beaches of Rhode Island. But now, I am staying closer to home and discovering the gorgeous places within an hour of where I live.

Each day, I go for a walk, amazed at how many beautiful spots there are to wander within 15 minutes of my condo with Marti, my dog (and star of children’s sermons during the pandemic). And every week, Ian and I seek out new places where we can make a video for the Thanksgiving for Baptism at the beginning of each worship service.

But for me as a person of faith, it means that I am also taking this time to go deeper into my own spiritual journey. Most days since the pandemic started, I devoted myself to an hour of deep cleaning and purging. And in the process, I created a new “prayer and meditation room” in the lower level of my condo. (Ian also uses it for his yoga.) It is the perfect spot to light a candle and enter into deep, centering prayer.

I have a home altar there as well as books for prayer and reflection, candles, a bowl of water to remind me of my baptism and a kaleidoscope — which I collect — to help me remember that there are always different ways to view the world and in the light of God, they can all reveal beauty.

Having this space has strengthened my prayer life and allowed me to find peace in the midst of the pandemic storm and renewal in the midst of the level of emotional exhaustion it has created, as I seek to fulfill my calling to care and serve God and the community in this time of challenge.

I have found that I don’t have to travel very far to find a place that takes me beyond the present into the presence that will sustain my soul.

During this time when I can’t travel as I have in the past, the Psalms have been a source of unfailing comfort and grace. Today, I read, “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. (Psalm 143:8)

For so many of us, the way where we usually go isn’t available to us, or is limited. But when we open ourselves up to the presence of God in prayer and reflection, new ways will be revealed to us when we center ourselves in the Word of God and trust where God is leading us. It may not be where we thought we were going. However,  in the end, I am confident it will take us to places we never expected that will fill us with wonder and awe until we can travel freely again.


O God, our beginning and our end, help us as we travel deeper into our faith and find the peace and joy that comes from turning ourselves toward the path where you lead the way. As we find ourselves limited as to where we can go, remind us of the limitless love you offer as you guide us along the path of life. In the name of the Good Shepherd who leads us, we pray. Amen.

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