(The Isles is a series of reflections on my recent trip to Ireland and England.)
“It’s good to benefit as much as possible from the journeys and trips one must make.” – Vincent van Gogh
When you take a trip, you hope to bring something back with you — to somehow be changed by your experience. There are so many things I could say that I brought back with me, and they will doubtless come out over time on this blog, but I think I can best summarize by saying my life was expanded by the experience. Ultimately, what I took from my visit to Ireland was a bigger, broader view of three things: the world, the Church, and myself.
I came back from Ireland and England with a bigger, broader picture of the world. I had the chance of experiencing two cultures that were, however similar they were in many ways, still different than my own and even different from each other. In little details, from how extraordinarily friendly the Irish were to how incredibly polite the English were, the punctuality of the London Underground and the way Dubliners flock to St. Stephen’s Green after work, the intricacies of day-to-day living were fascinating to observe. I was also able to see outsiders’ perspectives on current American political situations and how they are viewed in Western Europe, as well as getting a glimpse of political divides in Ireland and England at the moment.
I also got a view of Christianity that I had heard about but not experienced. Western Europe is thoroughly post-Christian. The cities are Christ-haunted, to be sure — there are church buildings everywhere — but services are poorly attended. I am, in some ways, quite jealous. Those that attend services do so with genuine purpose. Unlike in the U.S. (at least in the Southeast), there is no social advantage to going to church. Therefore, it requires real intentionality, motivated by a genuine desire to join in the collective worship of God. There’s no appeal to being a “nominal” Christian where there is nothing to be gained by being called a Christian.
Finally, I got a bigger view of my own life from the experience. I was able to step back and take in where I see myself in my current situation and, therefore, actually look to find a way forward. Even in the two months since the trip, I have been able to take steps towards career, life, and spirituality goals that I have felt unable to make for the past five years. I have, for one, joined the efforts of a current church plant happening in Louisville, as well as re-establishing my rhythm of praying the Daily Office and seeking times of walking in prayer and meditation. Further, I realized just how vital stepping outside of my daily routine is to gain proper perspective, so placing times like this periodically in my life is a new goal. All of this has been amazing, and it would not have happened had I not been able to step back, look at my life, and say, “Why am I not fervently pursuing what I feel I’m called to be and do?”
There is more excitement on the horizon. Even though this particular series reflecting on my European vacation is wrapping up, insights and new ventures spurred on by the trip continue onward, so stay tuned.
(Cover image: a picture I took somewhere over the clouds, somewhere over the world. © Jacob A. Davis)