21 May 2021

‘Lead us to peace, guide
us to peace, let us reach
our desired destination’

Flying over the island of Santorini on the way to Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The gradual roll-out of lifting restrictions on foreign travel is beginning to lift the spirits of many of us. Although I have only had the first of two vaccines, I am still hoping to get the second vaccine in time to attend a conference near Cambridge at the end of July, and hopes are rising each day that I may get to Crete for a week or two in September.

Already I am receiving emails from Ryanair, Aer Lingus and travel agents with special offers, and mail shots from airports from Stansted to Athens offering me special rates and parking benefits – even though I never learned to drive.

These are dark and cold days even for the end of May. But, with hope of seeing blue skies and blue seas in the months to come, my reflections on this Friday evening turn to the ‘Travellers’ Prayer’ in the Authorised Daily Prayer Book edited by the late Chief Rabbi, (Lord) Jonathan Sacks.

In the past, travel was associated with danger. The Talmud (Berachot 29b) contains a prayer to be said on journeys on which this prayer is based. Over time, further verses relating to safekeeping on the way have been added, together with Psalm 91 whose them is protection from danger.

The Travellers’ Prayer:

May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our ancestors, to lead us to peace, to direct our steps to peace, to guide us to peace, and to let us reach our desired destination in life, joy and peace. Rescue us from any enemy, ambush and danger on the way, and from all afflictions that trouble the world. Send blessing to the work of our hands, and let us find grace, kindness and compassion from you and from all who see us. Hear our pleas, for you are a God who hears prayer and pleas. Blessed are you Lord, who listens to prayer.

And Jacob went on his way and angels of God met him. When he saw them, Jacob said, ‘This is God’s camp’ and he named the place Machanaim [two camps]. Behold I am sending an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place I have made ready. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face shine upon you. May the Lord turn his face to you and give you peace.

When travelling by sea, some say:

Those who go to sea in ships, plying their trade on the wide ocean – they have seen the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep. At his commandment, the storm-wind rose and the waves high. They were carried up to the skies, then plunged down into the depths; their courage dissolved in the peril. They reeled and staggered like drunkards; all their skill was to no avail. Then they cried to the Lord in their distress, and he brought them from their straits. He turned the storm to a murmur, and the waves were stilled. They rejoiced when all was quiet, and he guided them to their desired destination. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his kindness, and for his wonders to humanity.

When travelling by air, some say:

When I look up at your heavens, the work of your fingers, at the moon and the stars you set in place: what is man that you should be mindful of him, or the son of man that you should care for him? If I climb to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in the underworld, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

May the pleasantness of the Lord our God be upon us. Establish for us the work of our hands, O establish the work of our hands.

Shabbat Shalom

‘Fly for Peace, Trust in the Human Heart’ … a Ryanair plane at Stansted Airport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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