Road trip logs new spiritual experiences

Spiritual thoughts permeate my life. That’s not necessarily good, as my religious pilgrimage has often been fueled by questions, doubt and disappointment.

But parts of my journey have been more fun than life-changing. I’d like to share bits of a recent road trip to Florida that provided me with a few new spiritual experiences.

In St. Augustine, I visited the first Catholic settlement in what would later become the United States. Interpretive signs on the grounds stated that soon after their landing, the Spanish quickly converted the local Indians from their “primitive” religious practice to those of Catholicism. Interesting enough. But I questioned: Rather than rush to convert our Native Americans, should we have learned more about, and maybe benefited from, their religious ideas, beliefs and practices?

I attended a Sunday church service in Daytona Beach and never left my car. An old drive-in theater had been repurposed to a church setting and an A-frame building with a balcony altar sat where the old movie screen once did. From here, the minister presented his message while a choir sat behind him out of sight. Driving through the front gate, volunteers gave me that day’s bulletin along with a neatly wrapped wafer and a small container of grape juice. Instead of using window speakers, now long gone, the service was broadcast over the car radio.

The Christian service was pretty typical but with the following novel exceptions. I noticed many attendees brought their dogs, petting them throughout the service. Singing in my car with the distant choir, but without the benefit of dozens of nearby voices, sounded, well, horrible. And the jubilant honking of car horns substituted for the hearty shouts of “Amen.”

During another experience, I spent 30 minutes mid-week at noon in a Lutheran church in musical meditation. About 25 of us entered the church in silence, then a candle on the altar was lit, a pianist played a diverse selection of instrumental music to help focus and deepen our thoughts, then a pause and the candle was extinguished. We left the church in silence. It was a simple yet moving experience.

Without a doubt, a stop at Marantha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., to attend Sunday school taught by President Jimmy Carter was the highlight of the vacation.

After being escorted to the front of the altar by stone-faced Secret Service agents, the 39th president of the United States looked out over the crowd of 200 people, flashed his famous smile, and spoke from his heart about forgiveness.

All in attendance appreciated Carter’s wisdom, experience and sincerity as he shared his thoughts about the Bible, how it has guided his life and how it could affect ours. Jesus’ teachings remain Carter’s moral compass as he strives toward his passion of achieving world peace.

Through the Carter Center in Atlanta, he continues to work to eliminate preventable diseases in developing countries, improve women’s rights worldwide and, of course, build houses with Habitat For Humanity. President Carter and his wife, Rosalyn, generously posed for photos afterward.

A vacation can be the perfect time to try a new service, another denomination, or, perhaps, even a different faith. A faith journey doesn’t always have to be deep and somber.

In John 11:35, it’s written that “Jesus wept.” But no doubt Jesus also joked, laughed and enjoyed life with his friends. We should, too. Experience. Explore. You may not have an epiphany that lasts forever, but you may have fun.

Tom Bresko, retired from Mill Creek Metro Parks, is a Christian on a spiritual pilgrimage.

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