Last month, my wife and I took a beautiful tour of Alaska that included seven nights aboard Holland America’s ms Statendam and a five-day land tour.

Like any package tour, the itinerary took us where the company brought us and sold us what the company dictated. From the ship, we saw the wind-swept glaciers at their appointed hour and exclaimed our aahs and oohs when prompted.

On the land portion, we stayed in company-owned hotels. We panned for gold on the grounds of the company-owned dredge, spending our hard-earned gold wherever the company had an interest.

Don’t get me wrong. That’s just the way it is. That’s why it’s called a “packaged tour.” Despite the programmed nature of the tour, we still managed to see some amazing things.

The best came, however, only when we disembarked the mother ship to explore sights impossible to program or prompt. From a much smaller boat, we saw whales leap from the seas, and from a still smaller canoe, we collected 300-year-old ice chunks from a glacier-fed lake.

On a school bus, we tracked bear, and in a rental car, we found the edge of tundra and walked upon its spongy surface.

The whole thing reminded me of the way we often can find faith.

In our search for faith, we often book passage aboard large groups or denominations. Like the monster ship I sailed on, you can find some monster faith groups out there.

Like my ship, they will take you to some amazing places, teach you some guiding principles and show you some eternal truths.

They will train you in the ways of holy books and inspire you with music and sermons. But the truth is you can listen to someone preach the sacred truths for a month of Sundays and never get from it what you can by reading it for yourself.

There comes a time in your faith journey when you have to forge your own way. You have to momentarily leave the mother ship, because faith still works best when you go on your own shore excursion.

A few years ago, I set out on an afternoon shore excursion along the California coast. At the water’s edge, I found an isolated rock and quickly breached its top.

Sitting atop the rock with my soul exposed, I was hoping to find a still place, a place where I could hide and be exposed, see and be seen — a place high enough to make my prayer heard but low enough to nurture humility.

My prayer began:

Lord, find what I’ve hidden

Heal what I’ve hurt

Open what I’ve closed

Teach what I wouldn’t learn

Fill the places I’ve emptied

And empty what consumes me.

Release what I’ve captured

Hold what escapes me

Invade what I defend

And defend what I’ve surrounded


My prayer didn’t contain the beauty of the Lord’s Prayer or the awe of the 23rd Psalm, but it was my prayer, my own shore excursion into faith.

And at the end of the day, my guess is sacred ground can be found in many places. Sometimes we find faith in Sunday hymns and other times, we find it in the seaside winds