Atlanta Travelers Seek More than Fun in the Sun
Atlanta groups offer travel to foster community, faith and personal growth.
Interfaith Community Initiatives (ICI) brings clergy and lay-leaders into an intentional mix of faiths, colors, races and genders to work out their differences and worship together. According to Executive Director Judy Marx, the purpose of ICI’s World Pilgrims program is to build a stronger community through travel by fostering common experiences among people of different religions.
“Travel changes us whether we have that intention or not,” Marx says. “This is not for spiritual seekers. It is for people who want to create change.”
The World Pilgrims program began in 2002 with Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders. It has grown to include Buddhists. A person may join regardless of religious affiliation, but one commonality among all members is that everyone stands firm in their place of faith. To pass the entrance criteria, a person needs to be willing to practice the customs of others they do not always agree with, and be willing to demonstrate something of their own faith.
According to Marx, the founders believed that the best way for people to connect with one another is to take people out of an environment where they’re too busy to focus on one another. A common experience, like travel, will build relationships that will sustain them for a lifetime.
During the pilgrimage, time is built in for personal and group reflection and sharing, for relationship building, and a lot of time for working out the tough issues.
When they return home, people may still pray differently and believe different things, but Marx says they will work together as a community.
“Now, when mosques are threatened, leaders of other faiths show up to stand up for their friends,” Marx says. “When you travel with someone and you have to figure out how to use money in Turkey, or find the bathrooms in Guatemala, there’s no way that one won’t stand up for another.”
World Pilgrims’ destinations scheduled for 2017 include San Francisco and South Africa. Previous destinations have included Turkey and The Holy Land.
For those who can’t take 10 days off work to travel, ICI also holds immersions, which are three-day experiential faith tours of Atlanta. On Friday morning, people come together and learn about Islam, have lunch with Muslims, and pray Jummah. In the afternoon, they learn about Judaism and say Sabbath prayers. On Saturday, they learn about Hinduism and visit a Hindu temple to participate in the rituals there. In the afternoon, they may be at a Buddhist temple. On Sunday, they may double up and go to an African American Catholic church for Mass and later to a white Presbyterian church.
“They come away understanding that there isn’t one way of doing anything. Each of these sacred places has its own message to teach,” Marx says. “Putting your feet someplace else teaches us a lot.”
Another way to travel is for spiritual knowledge. Pilgrimage with Decatur’s Columbia Theological Seminary is a capstone for the Certificate of Spiritual Formation, and is open for anyone to apply. The journey includes six days in Galilee, and six days in Jerusalem. It is designed for spiritual formation and renewal.
“Pilgrimage is one of the oldest and most important spiritual disciplines,” states the seminary’s web site. “It begins with the soul’s longing, a sacred seeking of new terrain and spiritual meaning.”
The Quest Travel Group of Atlanta also arranges Christian journeys for groups and individuals. They have a department dedicated to Catholic Pilgrims, founded by CEO Samir Zumot, a Catholic native of Jerusalem. The staff has been providing spiritual pilgrimages since 1977.
Quest’s itineraries emphasize visiting local churches and other significant landmarks. Priests, laymen, nuns, professors and school groups can experience the pilgrimages in groups of 10 or more. Travelers can join a group as an individual or organize their own group.
Not all pilgrimages are religious or holy. Atlanta’s Ashley Adams experiences transformative travel as often as possible. Adams admits that while her journeys are about searching for something, she doesn’t always know what that is before she goes.
She began traveling solo the year she turned 40, beginning with a pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago, from France into Spain, walking for five days with only the clothes she was wearing and a pack on her back. For her, the trip was about stretching and living outside of her comfort zone. On the last day, she walked 24 miles. It was the most physically challenging thing she’s ever done, and it was soul cleansing.
“It was a true sense of accomplishment, climbing that mountain, working it out,” says Adams. “I came back from that trip completely rejuvenated and grateful for my life back home.”
Since then, on her days off her work as a lead aesthetician at exhale Atlanta, she often hikes nearby mountains with her canine, Clementine. After time spent in the elements, she returns to work rejuvenated.
In September, Adams took a vacation to visit distant family in Colorado, and from there rented a car for a “little spirit journey” through the southwest part of the United States.
“It’s hard to say what each trip has been about. This one has been about being present and letting go,” Adams says from the road. “I had an amazing, spiritual drive from Durango, Colorado to Sedona, Arizona, driving through all that sacred Indian land, the monuments that looked to the sky, as if to worship the very sun itself.”
While driving through the desert, she started thinking about what feeds her, as opposed to what numbs her. The answer came that her life lacked creativity. She realized that her daily anxiety is a result of unreleased creativity. She promised herself to cultivate a creative practice upon her return home.
“I want to learn how to be still and be in the moment. It’s easy to do on vacation. Let’s see if I can put it in practice when I return home,” Adams says. “I am realizing and accepting that I cannot change anyone or anything. I can only control what I say and what I do, and how I respond.”
Whether one seeks to change one’s self, the world around them, or fulfil the tenets of faith, traveling with purpose can broaden one’s view of the world.
Lucretia Robison is a blogger, licensed massage therapist and Emory University-trained health coach. Contact her at [email protected].