The Prayer of the Traveller

Many of us are on our travels as I write this. Today I will resume mine – one hundred and fifteen kilometers by road before a flight of forty minutes (in the air we register time not space), then a break before resuming for the next seventy minutes of flight. Finally thirty kilometers of suburban roads. Then home. Home – that word for an idea that houses our love; for the island we build to grow a couple into a family. After two stationery days I’ll skip from the continent of my birth to the land of the free – three flights, ten security checks (eight of these in the US) – eighteen hours in the air.

Long before the Malaysian airliner disappeared I had my misgivings. The loss of a civilian passenger aircraft over Donetsk did nothing to comfort me. And now the AirAsia tragedy. Travel is dangerous. Out here in the Outback, the roads are full of kangaroo, wandering stock, feral donkey and camel, species which share with the shahidi a zest for homicidal suicide. Air travel, far, far safer, remains hazardous.

Travel has always been thus.

If you are a wuss (I am) and if you have a prayerful bent (I am severely bent in that way) you might pray for a safe arrival – and if you are needy or greedy (I am both), you’d slip in a word for your safe return home.

The following comes from the ancient Traveller’s Prayer recited by Jews. The text catalogues a surprisingly contemporary list of hazards:

May it be Your will to direct our steps to peace, to allow us to reach our desired destination in life, in joy and in peace.

Rescue us from any enemy, ambush and danger on the way and from all afflictions that trouble the world.

Let us find grace, kindness and compassion from all who see us.

You can fill in your own particular concerns. (Afflictions that trouble the world are plentiful. I think of Ebola. I think too of violence of all kinds – both abroad and within our domestic walls.)

An anxious Jewish traveller (Jewish people are past masters at anxiety), having completed the lines above, might feel the need for elaboration or emphasis. Such persons follow on with Psalm 91. I do. I love this one: I loved this one and I quoted it to my shell-shocked teenage daughters after two hilarious hoons chucked rotten eggs through the girls’ car window, breaking on and altering the grooming of their lovely long locks.

Five years ago, grandson Toby, famous in these pages for his flirtations with danger, drew a picture in vivid primary colours. The picture, three inches by one and a half, was intricate, pulsing with the vibrancy of his four-year-old being. Toby presented it to me: ‘This is for you, Saba.’ Since that day it has sat between the leaves of my travel prayer book. It guards the place of Psalm 91.

One who lives in the shelter of the Most High abides in the shade of the Almighty. He will save you from the trap of the hunter and the deadly pestilence. You need not fear the terror by night, nor the arrow that flies by day; nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon. Though a thousand may fall at your side, even ten thousand at your right hand, yet unto you it shall not come nigh.

I am not simple – or faithful – enough to believe that simply reciting these words will guarantee my safety. Saying the words is not the equivalent of completing the enrollment forms in supernatural travel insurance. I am not insured. But it is in the beauty of the poetics; in the relief of putting fears into words then filing them away; in the unspoken reminder that in matters in which I am powerless there is no point fretting – in these I find comfort, acceptance.

I am not insured, just assured.

I wish us all safe travels.

4 thoughts on “The Prayer of the Traveller

  1. Hi Howard

    Your lovely missive reminded me of this blessing

    Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honour everyone; love and serve the Lord.

    Thanks for your blogs. I look forward to them.

    Warmest regards

    Don

    Don Palmer – Tjungurrayi – CEO

    The Malpa Project

    http://www.malpa.org.au

    Twitter @MalpaProject

    0417 297 010

    02 9499 3333

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    • Donald

      That is a lovely array of wise and humane directives

      Religion equals fanaticism equals jihad equals barbarism and atavism nowadays

      Your piece is an excellent corrective to those equations

      As is a poem I encountered in the predawn this morning

      By Leigh hunt
      – abou – to be continued

      My plane from woopwoop to home is boardinghouse

      Like

  2. “Shell-shocked daughters”. Haha, Howard, you cracked me up!

    I’m a bit of a wuss too, re travel. I concocted all sorts of scenarios for myself when I had to travel to the USA on Nov 11, two months after 9/11. As in, you know, 11/11 would be a good date to try the next attack, and LA (where I was going) would be just the place to attack the heart of the infidels’ infidelic (I think that should be a word) behaviour. And then, I’m only doing this for work. Should I put myself at risk for work! And then, but thousands and thousands are in the air safely every day. And then .. well, you get the drift. I went, was safe, and am here to tell the tale but before each trip I go through similar angst. However, all of life is a risk, n’est-ce pas?

    So, I say, go well, Howard, and enjoy.

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  3. I do indeed wish you safe travels. I’m glad the prayers are comforting and indeed (though unbelieving) I love the sounds, the emotions and the poetry of them. Email me at threadgoldpressatwaitrosedotcom when you have a suitable London coffee moment and I will turn up, maybe even with a slice of fruitcake!

    Like

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