Beauty

Dear Wide-Eyed Traveler... by Rachel Nordgren

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There were so many things I freaked out over before Hans and I left for this trip. Where would we go? What would happen if there was an accident? Did we have everything we needed? I googled "what happens if you're traveling and nuclear war breaks out" far more times than I care to admit.

Now that we've been on this nomadic adventure for nearly 6 months (!!!), there are a few things I'd like to tell that frantic girl back in Kansas. If you're about to embark on your own adventure, whether it's across the country or across the continent, I hope this letter can encourage you, too.


Dear Wide-Eyed Traveler…

You, my dear, are about to embark on the loveliest adventure.

You do not know where the road will lead, and oh! how very exciting a place that is. You feel the tension though…the lightness and the freedom and excitement on the one hand, the dazzle of spontaneity, yet also the fear of the unknown and the fragility of your frame of reference.

You feel caught in the middle sometimes, don’t you? That’s quite all right. You don’t have to have it all figured out the moment your feet depart the shores of that country you’ve called home. If you had it all figured out, what would be the purpose of the journey?

I’m just going to get this one out of the way: you’re going to over pack. Just embrace it, accept it, and give yourself grace as you lug your godforsaken luggage across the surface of the globe, cursing that extra pair of shoes with every ounce of fury you can muster.

You’re likely going to over pack your expectations and goals and preconceived notions as well.

Again, give yourself some grace.

You didn’t know what you needed when you set out, because you’ve never had this adventure before. You had never walked these streets or hunched your shoulders against that sort of icy wind or needed to haul all your possessions up those many flights of stairs. You’ve likely never had your prejudices and precious biases so blatantly laid before your eyes, and that’s all right. You’ve likely never needed to distill what you own into just what you can carry across a train platform.

It’s okay to let some things go, my dear.

Send it home, toss it in the bin, give it to someone else or let the breeze gently pry it from your fingers atop the windblown moors of the Exmoor coast.

You didn’t know what you didn’t know, and that’s okay.

Now, what are you going to hold on to? What is worth the space in your suitcase and your soul? What do you need to let go of in order to travel more freely, more lightly?

You’ll be surprised what you can live without.

The countries you visit will surprise you, too. If they don’t, you may as well go home, becasuse clearly your mind has more in common with a shriveled prune than a remarkable instrument of the human experience.

A waterfall of different languages and dialects will fall upon your ears, and your mind will grasp to comprehend meaning when the gap between what you hear and what you know stretches wide. Your mind will constantly be discovering…how the street signs look and what a zucchini is called and who’s who in the high places and the smell of the sea in that particular town.

Culture shock will chip away at you your darling norms and habits.

Your comfort zone has no border control.

It’s going to be FANTASTIC.

You’ll eat really well, too.

Oh, the food! Gird thy loins, oh traveler!

(And by that, of course, I mean make sure you pack a good pair of stretchy pants)

Eat macaroons in France and fish and chips in England and a bratwurst in a pretzel bun slathered with spicy mustard in Germany. You’ll eat a lot of rather normal food, too…not every meal will be totally remarkable…but the “normal” food of any given place can still be quite a feast if you turn down the lights and pour a couple glasses of ruby-red pinot and strike a match to set a candle or two aflame.

Flick on the radio and you may as well have lived here (or there) for twenty years.

More than almost anything, though? Stretch wide thine eyes.

May you get a crick in your neck from staring up at skyscrapers and cathedral ceilings and snow-dusted Alps. Dial open your pupils like a camera’s aperture and strive to let in all the light you can. Look closely. Notice the pattern of tiles and the grains of wood and the way the sun sparkles off the surface of this river vs. that one. Notice the fountains and the beggars and the stained glass and how they package apples at the grocery store. Pay attention to how your feet stumble on the cobblestones and can’t help but halt at the sight of glorious sunsets over a particular landmark.

And for goodness sakes, take lots of notes!

Feel the tension between all that you see and all that you want to see. Know thyself, my dear, and know when to nudge yourself along to the next thing and when to let the dust settle a bit. There will always be another thing on the list, one more place you could go or sight you could see. Don’t get so caught up in exploring that you trample over the beautiful experience right in front of your nose in an effort to fill your camera roll with one more set of snapshots.

(Drink plenty of water and get enough rest every night, too)

Remember, as Paul Theroux so wisely once said, "Travel is glamorous only in retrospect." When you’re slogging your way uphill in the rain because you miscalculated the bus timetable or trying to find cheese that doesn’t smell funny or attempting to work out the knots in your back that popped up after you spent 97 hours in the car, remember that not every day is going to look like it fell out of a bespoke travel magazine.

That’s perfectly fine. It’s what makes the gorgeous moments all the sweeter.

Finally, give yourself permission to travel imperfectly. You’re going to make mistakes. That’s okay. Above all else, be kind and respectful to yourself and the people you meet. If you do those two things, there’s not much else you can really mess up too badly.

Learn, and keep going.

See you out there!

Love,
A fellow nomad

Truth + Beauty + Goodness by Rachel Nordgren

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I sit tucked into the corner of the black leather couch in the small room in the unassuming office building, arms crossed tight.

"I don't know how to...do...faith right now. I don't even know if I want to..do? have?...faith right now. I don't know what it even means anymore." I haltingly confess.

Our counselor gently smiles, my husband reaches for my hand.


It was our last meeting with our marriage counselor before leaving for Europe. She is, for all intents and purposes, a saint. She has composed herself with heroic non-judgement across the coffee table from us while we've stormed at one another, asked just the right questions and raised her eyebrows in expectant silence when she knows we haven't told the whole truth. She has a dry and slightly off-kilter sense of humor (my favorite) and literally began one session by saying, "So, we haven't talked about sex yet. How's that going?"

Of course, she was not surprised by my confession. My husband wasn't either; it was something we'd been talking about for months. It's natural, I suppose, that I ended up there. I'd watched my "super Christian" marriage nearly crumble, my Mother suddenly die, my father practically be broken by grief, the white church-goers of my country elect a racist pedophile, my own sanity dance just outside my grasp.

It's natural, I suppose, that I started asking questions and pushing against everything I'd ever known, because so much of it wasn't holding anymore. I had no use for watered-down theology. I needed something a little stronger, thankyouverymuch, preferably on the rocks in a cut glass tumbler.

There was tremendous guilt in that, too. My parents' Evangelical church had swarmed around us in the wake of my Mom's death, stuffing our freezer full of meals and mowing our grass and inviting us over for dinner and praying their hearts out for us. There was sincerity that I could not deny and was so grateful for. I felt ashamed and guilty for being frustrated with the Church when the Church was loving my little hurting family so deeply.

Yet there was also this deep-seated, thrumming sense of "I don't belong here anymore."

Eventually, I squarely extricated myself from the "Evangelical" box. This is not to say that I abandoned Jesus (although to some Evangelicals, leaving Evangelicalism equates to leaving Jesus), but merely that I decided I was done defining my faith in Jesus strictly by the terms of Evangelicalism...particularly white, patriarchal, western Evangelicalism.

My ideas about faith are sliding in and out of focus, and there's not much I know "for sure." It feels incredibly vulnerable, and frightening at times. It's essentially like the entire framework of my existence was kicked out from under me, and that's a terrifying sensation.

Yet I could not, with emotional and intellectual honesty, cling to my belief systems any longer.

This is known as deconstruction, apparently. There's a name for all of us out here in faith freefalls.


Our counselor tilts her chin and considers this for a moment. "I think," she says, "that God isn't beautiful to you right now." I nod. She goes on, "It will probably be helpful for you to see God in different places...to ask yourself how God looks beautiful in different cultures and communities and churches as you travel."

She encourages us to engage with books and theologies that make God beautiful, and rattles off a couple of authors...James Bryant Smith, Brennan Manning, Brené Brown (duh), Brian Zahnd, St. Francis of Assisi. She asks us to consider spiritual formation habits as we travel...things like silence, solitude, gratitude, physical exercise.

One of the most freeing things to come from her lips is this: "There is going to be a pendulum swing when you go from one narrative of God to another. You might overcorrect, and that's okay. That has to happen so that you will come back center."

I'm being given permission to wander.

I am, as Sarah Bessey says, making peace with an evolving faith.


Truth.

Beauty.

Goodness.

It's the last big idea that our counselor imparts before we leave, and it buries itself deep in my mind.

They're known as the "transcendentals," and philosophers have been pondering them for basically ever. They're considered the properties of being, representative of science, art, and religion. If you want to give yourself an instant headache, go read through the Wikipedia page and try to wrap your mind around this sentence: "The transcendentals are not contingent upon cultural diversity, religious doctrine, or personal ideologies, but are the objective properties of all that exists."

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Some Christian theologians have purported that truth, beauty, and goodness are the essence of God and the ultimate desires of man. This is a bit more of my lane. In his essay entitled “[CS] Lewis’s Philosophy of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty,” Peter Kreeft says...

"For these are the only three things that we never got bored with, and never will, for all eternity, because they are three attributes of God, and therefore all God’s creation: three transcendental or absolutely universal properties of all reality.

All that exists is true, the proper object of the mind. All that exists is good, the proper object of the will. All that exists is beautiful, the proper object of the heart, or feelings, or desires, or sensibilities, or imagination.

We are head, hands, and heart. We respond to truth, goodness and beauty. We are this because we are images of God."

When you're deconstructing (or perhaps, restoring) your faith, the basics are everything.


Our counselor suggested I reverse-engineer a new narrative of God by looking for truth, beauty, and goodness every day.

So, I assigned myself this project for 2018...to daily enquire, "Where do I see truth? Where do I see beauty? Where do I see goodness?" While other parts of faith feel confusing and shaky and exhausting, this has become my transcendental liturgy. I don't know where exactly it will lead, or what "box" I'll end up back in, and I'm at peace with that. I'm in no rush to get this figured out.

If you want to follow along, check out my #TBGproject hashtag on Twitter.

For more thoughts on Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, head here.

PS - I've seen Evangelicals, at best hurriedly attempt to silence with platitudes and book recommendations, and at worst mercilessly mock and belittle, those who ask questions and don't tow the theological line. As such, I'm not about to crack the lid on all my thoughts and feelings about faith for the whole world to take a shot at. In time, I will. For now, I'm slowly processing with my husband and a small circle of trusted friends, and that's enough.