It seems like the hallmark of most religions is that one’s own religion is considered the best and most correct while all the others are wrong. I have found that traveling to countries where religions other than Christianity are practiced has changed my view of that notion. It has inspired me to “level up” certain practices in my own spiritual life. The more I travel, the less judgmental, more and intrigued, and more understanding I have become about the practices of believers around the world.
The first country I visited where Christianity wasn’t predominant was Morocco. I went during the Christmas season the year my husband died. While we were on the ferry from Tarifa, Spain, to Tangier, Morocco, my daughter and I started to sense a shift as the religion practiced by the majority went from Christianity to Islam. There was even a small room on the ferry where people could go to pray at specific times. You may have heard about the Muslim call to prayer (adhan)—how everyone throughout the city or village will stop and pray when the call is made. But nothing can compare to actually hearing the chant over loudspeakers as it echoes all over the city and witnessing the muezzins saying, (translated to English) “God is great!” over and over, followed by other messages of praise and reverence.
In Dubai, the call to prayer is sounded in the food court of their iconic shopping center—the largest in the world. When Muslims say their daily prayers, five times a day, they pray on a small rug facing Mecca. Even roadside stops have small prayer rooms. One time in my hotel room in Dubai, I noticed there was a spare prayer rug stashed in the closet in case a visitor didn’t have theirs.
Then, when I was in China, one of the stops on our tour was a Buddhist temple. I have had very little exposure to Buddhism other than reading about celebrities who’ve embraced it. As we walked up the temple steps, our tour guide told us that this was an especially busy day at the temple because the school year was starting, and parents had come to say prayers for their children’s successful school year. It was totally beyond impressive to see men and women shoulder to shoulder praying for their children.
On my first trip to India, we visited a Hindu temple in Khajuraho on the feast day of the god Shiva. As we approached, we saw throngs of women lined up outside. Our guide explained that the men enter the temple first; when they are finished, then the women can enter. A few minutes later, as all the men exited the temple, a sight I will never forget took place: The women, who had been waiting calmly, all at once, took off running into the temple. They had to scale nothing less than 30 steps, and they moved as an excited mob to enter. Where have you ever seen people running to praise God? I recall the words of a popular gospel song, “I came running when they said unto me, ‘Now let us go into the house of the Lord.’”
As a spiritual person, I could not experience new countries without taking time to recognize their spiritual and religious practices. Everything from going into Lithuanian Orthodox churches—seeing the beauty of their relics and paintings, to seeing people in a Nepalese village slay a sheep, a goat, and a real-live bull, in celebration of a god’s feast day. (For me, that was the most mind-boggling sight ever.) In each of these situations, I found myself thinking: How can I begrudge them? How can I judge a people—a culture—for feeling their set prayer time is so important that a ferry boat makes sure to include a prayer room in its construction?
I am so grateful to have had these experiences, moments of seeing people around the world practice their religion. It challenges me to pause and think: This works for millions, if not billions of people… is there some aspect of how they worship that I can adopt into my own life and spirituality? Such an experience often strengthens my resolve to proclaim Jesus as my savior, but there are times when it does change my perspective. As a result, I’ve become a more openminded person. This is one of the many reasons why I love travel and hope to experience many more enlightening moments for years to come.
Have you ever witnessed another faith practice that challenged your religious beliefs?Leave a Comment