Soul-Changing Travel

Charlotte Simpson, a.k.a. The Traveling Black Widow, reflects on how witnessing the spiritual and religious practices of cultures around the world has helped re-shape her own faith.
Tail of an airplane at sunset over purple clouds and sky

Image of Charlotte SimpsonIt seems a tenet of most religions is that one’s own is the best, the only way, and I have found that traveling to countries where non-Christian religions are practiced has changed my view of that notion. It’s inspired me to “level up” certain practices in my own spiritual life. The more I travel, the less judgmental, more understanding, and intrigued I have become about the practices of believers around the world.

My first trip to a non-Christian country, Morocco, was at Christmas the year my husband died. You hear about the Muslim call to prayer (adhan), and that everyone will stop and pray throughout the city/village when the call is made. But nothing can compare to actually hearing the chant over loudspeakers throughout the city and witnessing the muezzins saying, (translated to English) “God is great!” over and over followed by other messages of praise and reverence. I’ve looked forward to it in subsequent trips to Muslim countries. 

When I was in Dubai, in my hotel room, there was a prayer rug. When Muslims say their daily prayers, five times a day, they pray on a small rug facing Mecca. Even roadside stops had a small prayer room. The call to prayer was sounded in the food court at the city’s iconic largest shopping center in the world. 

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 year. It was totally beyond impressive to me to see men and women shoulder-to-shoulder praying for their children.   

Image of Hindu temple in Khajuraho

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 and when they are finished, the women can enter. A few minutes later, as all the men had 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 the temple. Where have you ever seen people running to praise their god?

Image of parents praying for their childrenAs a spiritual person, I could not experience new countries without taking time to recognize their spiritual and religious practices. Everything from going in Lithuanian Orthodox churches and seeing the beauty of their relics, paintings, and things that I am familiar with as a Christian, to seeing people in a Nepalese village slaying a sheep, goat, and a real live bull in celebration of a god’s feast day. 

I am so grateful to have had these experiences and moments of seeing people around the world practice their given religion. It challenges me and gives me pause to think, “This works for millions, if not billions of people—is there some aspect of how they worship I can adopt into my own life and spirituality?” It strengthens my resolve in some situations, and in others, totally changes how I see things. 

This is one of the many reasons I love travel and hope to experience many more enlightening moments for years to come.      

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