In many ways, we live in “Disney Land”. I’ve thought about some form of that statement at various times for a couple of years now. It first hit me while walking through the Morocco Pavilion in the World Showcase at Disney’s Epcot Center in Orlando. We saved our money and took our family to the resort for the first time during fall break in 2006. One spot I was looking forward to visiting was the Morocco Pavilion. I traveled in Morocco several years ago and found it to be an absolutely beautiful and exotic place. I loved the people, food, the noisy markets, and the beautiful and diverse terrain. I was hoping for my family to get a taste of that experience at Epcot, figuratively and literally.
However, I had entered Morocco by way of the Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca, traveled by car to Fez and then roamed the streets of the ancient medina before sitting down tired and very hungry to an amazing meal of fresh bread, Tajine, and great wine. Those sharing that meal together were collectively reeling from cross cultural overload. It was one of the most memorable 24hour periods of my life. (I still have the wine cork from this meal on my desk to commemorate this wonderful experience.)
Contrast that with our journey to the Morocco Pavilion at Epcot: We arrived by way of a mono-rail car en route from the station not far from Cinderella’s Castle. We walked under the Spaceship Earth pavilion toward the World Showcase, past Disney versions of Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, America, and Japan and entered the Morocco pavilion. Behind the facades we found pretty much the same restaurants and shops found throughout the park. The food was overpriced, very poor imitations of the “cuisines” of the respective countries. I had an absolute blast with the family and we all enjoyed our simulation to the fullest. But I found myself thinking that for the same amount of money, we could have actually taken the family to MOROCCO.
In a book of daily readings, (365 Tao), Den Ming-Dao wrote, “It is good to have holy places in the world, and it is good for us to go on pilgrimages…To visit a place is minor; to change within yourself is greater. …When it comes to the sacred sites, its better to be a pilgrim than a tourist.” Much of our western culture is geared to create/lure tourists. Think of the simulations of actual experience we encounter everyday: video games rather than actual sports, treadmills rather than sidewalks, restaurants with “family” themes rather than sitting down and eating as a family, “reality” TV programs rather than actual reality, etc. (add some more to the comments if you like)… Simulated experiences can only aspire to be a vehicle for tourism; entertaining to be sure, but never providing opportunity for pilgrimage. (I’m praying that the “Bible Theme Park” doesn’t come to Tennessee).
Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush aflame with God.
But only those who see take off their shoes.
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.
By all means, HAVE FUN this summer! Be a tourist! Pick some blackberries! Go to Disney world!! But, plan some time for pilgrimage. It might be a journey all the way to the family dining room, or to the hiking trail around the corner that you know is there but have never visited,…(suggestions welcome!). Take off your shoes! Take notice of the “common bush aflame with God.”