By Michelle Francl-Donnay
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for it is by doing so that some have entertained angels without knowing it. – Hebrews 13:2
I am an itinerant scholar these days, teaching and writing far from my usual haunts. The last few weeks have seen me traveling up and down the Northeast corridor from Princeton, N.J., to Washington, D.C., and as I write this, I am on a plane headed to London, en route to Singapore.
I’ve learned to travel lightly, trusting that I will find what I need along the way – or just do without. Still, my bag coming back from Virginia last week was anything but light. I had brought almost 20 pounds of books with me to work on a writing project in between workshops and guest lectures. And I bought more while I was there – heedless of the four train connections that stood between me and home. (Small wonder I resonate with the 12th century Carthusian Abbot who as his monastery burned exhorted the monks to save not themselves, but, “The books, my brothers, the books!”)
Changing trains on my way to Union Station, I discovered to my dismay that not only were the escalators out of service, so were the elevators. So much for luggage on wheels. I resolutely picked up my bag and hauled it up the first three steps, and took a breather. Another four steps. I hoisted the bag up again, trying not to mentally count the number of steps remaining.
Suddenly my bag seemed to float, I looked back to see a young woman holding the other end high and almost dancing up the steps. In seconds we were at the top. As I turned to thank my rescuer, she grinned, murmured, “God bless you,” and dashed off; my words of gratitude and blessing bobbing along in her wake.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminds the community to care for the stranger, just in case they are angels in disguise. I momentarily wondered if I’d been entertained by an angel in Metro Center, rather than the other way ’round. Regardless, it was a profound traveling mercy.
Before I embarked on this month of travels, a friend promised me prayers for “traveling mercies” along the way. In “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith” Anne Lamott writes of the older women of her church community who send travelers off with this same prayer. They mean, she says, “Love the journey. God is with you. Come home safe and sound.”
I sometimes think of traveling mercies as just-in-time grace – like the young woman who came to my aid on the stairs. But it is also grace that sharpens my eyes for God. Traveling takes me out of the places I know well, pushes me out of my comfort zone. All this reminds me that I’m equally on journey when I’m back home and so to be attentive to the mercies to be found there.
My suitcase clearly advertised my status as a traveler to my energetic helper (and my graying hair, perhaps, my need of a traveling mercy). But we are all travelers and our need of mercy is just as great at home as on the road. Now I’m looking out not only for the mercies shown me – on the road or at home – but those I might offer to my fellow travelers.
May the Lord bless you and keep you. May his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May he look upon you with kindness, and give you peace. Amen. – From the solemn blessing for Ordinary Time I.
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr. She can be reached at: email@example.com.