Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Blessing for Your Journey

Hanging out this week with Philly and Boston friends.
"Departure" seems to be a dominant theme over the last couple of weeks.  Not only have I announced my departure from St. Clement's and Philadelphia, but I've had to say goodbye to several folks, who have left--albeit only temporarily--on vacation.  Fr. Reid has gone to Britain for 10 days for his birthday; our rector's warden and webmaster have taken a long overdue honeymoon in the UK; and our master of ceremonies left a couple of days ago for a cruise with his parents.  Fortunately, these departures have been offset by the arrival of a friend or two from out of town and a lot of fun with my regular locals.

Duccio, Jesus sending forth the disciples.
Mindful of the many dangers and challenges that can arise on a person's travels, even when it's an eagerly anticipated vacation, I have begun to ask the traveler if he or she would like a prayer and blessing before setting off.  As members of the Church, we seem to be pretty good about offering the prayers that have become the bread-and-butter staples of our liturgical life, but we tend to be less attentive to praying for each other in those moments when we step outside the parish precincts.  If we are to pray without ceasing, as the Bible and the traditions of the Church suggest, then we should work harder to offer prayers for a range of ordinary events and milestones.

The day before the departure, I ask the traveler if I can offer a prayer for him or her for safe travels.  I flip to the back of the Anglican Breviary, which contains a series of prayers, as well as versicles and responses, known as the Itinerary.  The entire service is rather lengthy, so I generally just select one of the prayers for sending forth, such as this one (which I have translated into contemporary English):

"O God, who brought your servant, Abraham, out of Ur of the Chaldeans, and preserved him unhurt through all the ways of his pilgrimage: we ask you to protect your servant, N.  Be to him, O Lord, a support in his setting out, a comfort by the way, a shadow in the heat, a covering in the rain and cold, a conveyance in weariness, a protection in adversity, a staff in slippery paths, and a port in shipwreck, that with you as his Guide, he may prosperously reach the place to which he is going, and at length return again to his home in safety. Amen."

I then offer my benediction:

"May the Holy Angels guard and protect you; may Blessed Mary and all the Saints pray for you; and may the Blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be with you this day and always. Amen."

Giving my first blessings.
Now, I admit that this is not much, but I have been very gratified to see how much people appreciate this small gesture of friendship and concern.  I wish we did a lot more of this sort of thing.  Leave-taking is an event that is often performed in a casual or perfunctory manner.  The noteworthy exception to this is funerals, where the departure is final and forever, and without the opportunity for the person who is leaving (or has left) to actually hear and receive the good wishes of the community.  It seems foolish to wait for the Big Goodbye to wish each other well and say: "Thank you for the relationship we've shared.  You are special to me."  Such an expression of connection can be nourishing food for the journey, sustaining us through unexpected trials and tempests far from home.  It is important when we are away from our home base to be assured that others are back there praying for our well-being and safety.  And it is not only true of when we travel, but whenever we are separated from the ones we care about.  I am sad to admit that I have often failed to tell someone from whom I am parting, whether for a little or a long while, that they matter to me.  For all those missed opportunities, let me simply repeat, "Thank you for the relationship we've shared.  You are special to me."

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Father for this most useful prayer and blessing for those going on a journey. I used it today with 2 parishioners making a stressful journey to Sierra Leone to face a challenging family matter and it was much appreciated. Fr Peter Packer OblSB, Parish Priest S. John Chrysostom, Peckham, London, England (see www.facebook/sjc.peckham)