I love beautiful places. I’m an aesthetic. I’m drawn to architecture, old buildings and the general marvel and wonder found at the creations of this world. I often find myself sitting and reflecting in solitude, preferably amidst some created beauty. My favorite place is the Mission San Juan Capistrano. It’s a short walk or bike ride from our home and I am lured in by the beautiful gardens and grounds, some of the oldest architecture in California, the ruins of the Old Stone Church; palm trees and perfect weather.
I often find myself with my journal, deep in thought somewhere within the geography of this small, isolated world. Recently I’ve noticed that my privacy, solitude and the aesthetics of this place are being diminished, altered – dare I say, destroyed. You may think it would be termites or erosion or modernization…but, alas, it is none of these or possibly a metaphorical evolution of all of the above. The offending party is the tourist.
Sitting quiet and blatantly holding out my reverence for all to see, the mass crowd enters the historic Serra Chapel. Loudly chattering and snapping pictures with a variety of modern technology, the group makes its way through the room documenting each moment. The irony of the moment being lost just as it is documented strikes me. Striving to capture the moment the tourist misses what was unique in the moment itself. What was just moments ago a sanctuary of peace and quiet, has become a bird sanctuary at the local zoo.
I’m not upset by my world of solitude being intruded upon. We’re called to find solitude in the midst of the whirl and whimsy of the world in which we live. A deeper feeling settles on me. A sadness at the inability to see. As tourists, none of these people can pause and see the moment. For me it is a moment of beauty and deep recognition in my heart and mind that Christ is my Lord and Savior and the King of this world!
When did we become spiritual tourists in this life? Wasting away our God-given breath, we wander about the halls of spirituality, perusing, but always playing the spectator. We observe…taking photographs…even ponder the meaning of something we don’t understand – but we never involve ourselves – we never give anything – we prefer just to take.
Amidst glorious and indescribable beauty – we attempt to make it our own while it merely feeds the fire of our own narcissism. In our attempts to bottle the power of beauty we miss the beautiful power of the moment…never stepping into or better yet jumping into what God has laid before us. Drone-like we walk side-by-side without ever seeing the person who strolls beside us. Tripping over ourselves we never see the God before us. The butterflies and hummingbirds don’t seem to mind. They know their purpose and are fully about its business. The bee’s float from flower to flower – the flowers grow while crickets chirp…the sun covering it all in a white-hot radiance. We walk out and away stepping up into the bus for our next stop on the tour.
The only thing given is the slight traces the tourist leaves behind. The desecration of history, a trailing shadow scrawled on the walls, which moan at it’s passing. We litter the ground with our footprints of mortality. Has history become theory? Has relationship with the creator become spiritual tourism? Will you stop and recognize that you are not a tourist in this life, but an active participant in serving the Kingdom of God by following the person and work of Jesus Christ.