Along with singing songs like “I Have Two Hands,” and teaching me colors and how to count, when I was little my mom would ask me,
“Where is God?” I would look at her expectantly awaiting the answer. She would say,
“He’s here!” pointing to her heart…
“There!” pointing to the sky…
“And Everywhere!” waving her hands all around.
For a long time, I didn’t doubt what she said. I felt God in my heart and all over my life. But in my early 20s, a series of events led to broken relationships and broken trust with my childhood church, upending my faith. It overwhelmed me so much that I decided to leave everything that was familiar and “start over.”
Starting over came in the form of studying abroad for a year. But, when the customs agent said, “Bienvenido a España!” and I stood there in faint shock fumbling for a response in my classroom Spanish, I realized that even though my location changed, I did not. Starting over was not going to be easy. Navigating the temporary dorms felt eerily like my shy teenage self looking for a seat on the bus in high school. Everyone else seemed grounded in their personalities, their beliefs, their friend groups, their interests, and I felt lost and empty.
At first, I tried to find my way through art and travel. I took a weekly art class inside the Museo del Prado, home to Fra Angelico’s Annunciation. Over the holiday break, I traveled with a friend by Eurorail visiting the Marc Chagall Museum in Nice, France, the Duomo in Florence, staying at a convent guest house in Venice, and attending Midnight Mass at the Vatican on Christmas Eve. Salzburg’s divine landscape and music had us extending our stay through New Year before a final stop in Paris and its Notre Dame and Sacré-Cœur.
Every sacred artwork and holy cathedral exuded beauty and awe, and the experience felt unforgettable, yet when I returned back to Madrid something in me was still lamenting and searching for peace. In retrospect, I can see that my shaken faith was leading me down a winding road.
That same friend invited me to attend a church aptly named Encuentro con Dios (Encounter with God) with an evangelical community on fire for God. Surprisingly, it didn’t scare me. It felt like home, full of loving and welcoming people with kind and faithful hearts.
Later that spring, I traveled to London to meet a classmate. We spent Holy Week at her friend’s small Baptist church in Kensington Place. A young Calvinist, about our age, was preparing to take over as pastor to lead the diverse congregation. One day instead of visiting museums and cathedrals we helped them sort donations and shared stories about our faith journeys. I quickly developed a deep kinship with them.
On Easter, one of them, an immigrant from Africa, read a poem called, “It is Finished,” about Jesus’ last words and I started to weep. Suddenly, all of my reasons for leaving home felt at rest in my soul. It felt like God – here, there, and everywhere. Instead of the familiar religious traditions, churches and prayers passed down to me, my heart, mind, and body found faith on this new journey alongside some strangers traveling on the same road.
I learned that though it might take a trip into the unknown, it is possible to overcome doubt and find faith again. It is a lesson I have returned to many times in this life.
“In one sense we are always traveling, and traveling as if we did not know where we were going. In another sense we have already arrived. We cannot arrive at the perfect possession of God in this life, and that is why we are traveling and in darkness. But we already possess Him by grace, and therefore, in that sense, we have arrived and are dwelling in the light. But oh! How far have I to go to find You in Whom I have already arrived.”Thomas Merton, Dialogues with Silence
Film Footnote: I recently watched Roadrunner: A Film about Anthony Bourdain. In it, Bourdain is talking to musician Josh Homme about his life of traveling, and Josh says, “The bittersweet curse...Nothing feels better than going home, and nothing feels better than leaving home.” I immediately paused to play back that line again. As a peacemaker, the type most devoted to the quest, I recognized that curse in my bones.