Among the litany and prayers in the Prayer Book tradition, one of the groups in the “for the needy” category is for those who travel. Here is Occasional Prayer #53, from page 662 in The Book of Common Prayer (2019).
O God, our heavenly Father, whose glory fills the whole creation, and whose presence we find wherever we go: Preserve those who travel [epsecially ___]; surround them with your loving care; protect them from every danger; and bring them in safety to their journey’s end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As much as I love history and tradition, this has often been an odd prayer subject for me. Traveling is so much safer today than it was “back then”. You can fly around the world in airplanes just about anywhere and although accidents happen your chances of coming home safe & sound are incredibly high. So in my own prayer life whenever I encountered this sort of prayer, I would usually apply it in my heart to people I know who travel for a living, like truck drivers.
You can also spiritualize this sort of prayer really easily. The Journey is one of several biblical images for the Christian life; we are all pilgrims on the Way of Christ, seeking our eternal abode in that heavenly city. That’s a great and fruitful allegorical use of this prayer, complete with “every danger” that besets the Christian Journey.
But this prayer must have merit also in its “literal” construction. And you know what? COVID-19 has provided a context where this prayer has become more useful and meaningful. When there is a plague, pandemic, or other widespread disaster or concern, traveling becomes a lot more dangerous. Popping ’round the corner for groceries with a face mask is one thing, but traveling across multiple State lines in the US, where the infection rates have either fallen or dramatically risen (depending on the state and region) can get rather squirrely. What differences in policy will I run into if I stop in New York State versus Pennsylvania? Does Connecticut have the same guidelines as Massachusetts? Does a family have to take particular self-quarantine measures if a household member has traveled a few hundred miles and back?
These are not questions we should be panicking about, or asking in fear, but they are issues to be concerned with and to seek mindful answers to. Travel has become more complicated, and public health issues do make traveling more “dangerous” in one form or another. So if you’re not accustomed to praying this Prayer For Those Who Travel, perhaps for now you’ve got a useful context for it.