“We are all of us seeking a homeland, dear,
even though we have only seen and embraced it from afar.
We are all of us strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
“Business or Pleasure?”
It was what acquaintances asked when I mentioned I’d be out of touch for a few weeks while traveling in eastern Europe.
It was what the sales associate asked me when I bought my electrical adapter and extra camera memory card.
It was what the teller at the bank asked me when I told her to mark my account as going overseas.
“Business or pleasure?”
It’s such a cliché and profound question at the same time. They’re asking because I’m going to an uncommon and surprising destination (the bank teller made me write “Transylvania” on a piece of paper for her before she believed what I was saying), and they’re asking because it’s what you ask when someone says they’re traveling.
But it’s also a deep and compelling question to ask someone: What is the purpose of your traveling? Why do you think you’re going to this place?
Really, I was never entirely sure how to answer that fateful question accurately. Because the categories of business versus pleasure aren’t enough of a distinction to encompass this trip.
Strangers and Pilgrims on the Earth
I’m going on pilgrimage, to a little town in central Romania, to visit strangers who are long-time friends of my church community.
I’m going because I’m on the church staff, and my presence underscores the importance of the partnership for us. I’m going because I was asked to go as part of my job. I’m also going because I very much want to meet these resilient, colorful people whom — until now — I have only known from afar.
Pilgrimage is more than pleasure: it is certainly the answer to what Frederick Buechner calls the “summons” of mystery in human experience. It is also more than business: this is a sharing of communities, not a transaction.
When I arrive in Transylvania tomorrow, I will be at the mercy of my hosts, who I’m sure will welcome me to their tables, their homes. Though we don’t share language, we share a commitment to honoring the places of their Hungarian heritage. Though we don’t share a culture, we share the roots of religious tradition, and those are deep roots indeed.
The complexities of kind of this kind of trip is not particularly easy to explain to acquaintances, bank tellers, and sales associates, so I tell them I am traveling for both business and pleasure.
Really, though, what I mean is that I’m traveling for more than business and pleasure.