“Of old you made yourself the guide and the way for your people as they wandered in the desert; be our protector as we set out on this journey, so that we may return home safely.” — From the Order of Blessing of Travelers
“Which suitcase do you need?” my husband calls from the basement. He’s packing up for a trip to New England. I’m headed to Texas for the second time in a week. My oldest has been living out of a single duffel bag since the middle of May. There’s a lot of packing and unpacking going on here.
As I gather my things, making sure I have all the cables I need for my computer and enough shirts to get me through a four-day workshop, I’ve been thinking about what I pack for prayer.
I sometimes think my prayer life suffers as much from jet lag as I do. On the road, my schedule is not entirely under my control, weather can shift plans in an instant, and finding a quiet private place for prayer can be a challenge whether I’m visiting family or at a chemistry conference.
So just like I pack comfortable shoes for walking, I’ve started thinking about what I take along for more comfortable prayer on the road.
On my last flight, where we waited in a long line to take off, then waited for a gate to open up, then waited again for everyone to put everything back and get strapped in so we could move to a gate with a working jetway, I noticed the man in the row in front of me was coping the same way I was, with a prayer rope on his wrist — 33 woolen knots to say the Jesus prayer on.
Having a rosary or a prayer rope so close to hand is a physical reminder to offer up this time of waiting and pray for the needs of the world, particularly for migrants and pilgrims.
I miss Morning Prayer with my community, the steady rhythm of the psalms that keeps my prayer from racing ahead of itself. I keep a small prayer book tucked in my bag — a travel version of the Liturgy of the Hours — so that when I find a bit of space, I can slip into the round of prayer that the Church is continually offering.
I am spoiled at home, with daily Mass to be found within a few minutes’ drive, at various times of the day. At my dad’s, the nearest Catholic church is a 40-minute drive — each way — over dirt roads, and there is only one Mass. I travel with a monthly booklet that has the readings and prayers for each day, along with a short reflection.
Just like travel broadens my horizons, getting to hear the Word broken open by so many different homilists gives me new perspectives on my faith life.
As unsettling I find it when my prayer life is upended with travel, it’s a potent reminder that my prayer is never entirely in my control. We are all pilgrims in this world, waiting, walking and praying as and when we can. Pack accordingly!
Prayer ropes: The sisters of the Monastery of St. Paisius in Arizona make woolen prayer ropes. The ropes are tied with the seven-fold knots that St. Anthony of the Desert learned from an angel when the devil kept trying to keep him from counting his prayers by untying the knots in his prayer rope.
Daily reflections and readings: Unsurprisingly, there’s an app for that: iBreviary has all the texts for daily Mass. “Give Us This Day” and “Magnificat” are monthly collections. (Full disclosure, I write an occasional reflection for “Give Us This Day.”)
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Bryn Mawr.