Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Traveler's Prayer

"May it be Your will...to guide us in peace...to lead us to our desired destination in health and joy and peace....Save us from every enemy and disaster on the way, and from all calamities that threaten the world."

Summer vacation has arrived. As the airplane lifts off the ground, I pull the gently-worn copy of the traveler's prayer from my wallet and begin to recite the words under my breath. I am immediately struck by how relevant this prayer—written many centuries ago—remains in this age of modern travel. The author of this text was most likely anxious about storms at sea, bandits along trade routes or the physical deprivations that were the hallmark of travel in ancient times. Yet his words resonate for me as I drag my suitcase through the security line which snakes through the terminal; I am reminded of the "calamities that threaten the world" as I pass a soldier arriving home on leave. When the TSA officer returned my driver's license to me and told me that I was "free to move about the country" I didn't feel entirely free. But soaring through the sky, I ask God's protection and guidance, and dream of a time when the words of this prayer will no longer be necessary.

Tziporah, as a traveler on life’s journey (alas, not privileged with vacation at the moment), I share your mindfulness of the many “calamities that threaten the world;" in that knowledge, I too find solace in a prayer beseeching God to lead us “to our desired destination in health and joy and peace.” In a prayer for travelers from my own tradition, the invocation “O God…whose presence we find wherever we go” reminds me that all our journeys begin, continue, and end in God. Despite all dangers in our path that rob us of a sense of safety—whether they come from natural disaster, personal illness or threats of violence—I take comfort in the wisdom expressed in the words that “when God is all we have, God is all we really need.”

I agree that we suddenly become aware of our potential lack of physical wellbeing and security as we leave the comfort of our dwellings. But this vulnerability does not go unnoticed in the eyes of our Creator. According to Muslim tradition, various times are considered “special windows of supplication opportunities," and travel is one of them. One Prophetic Hadith states that the supplication of the traveler will not be rejected.* In addition to reciting several prayers for his or her own safety, the conscious Muslim—in a heightened state of spiritual awareness when traveling—is often asked by friends and family members to pray for them during his or her journey. To me, the weakened emotional and physical state of a traveler is mended by the comfort and peace of being in an elevated state of connection with The Preserver and Trustee.

*Three supplications will not be rejected by God, the supplication of the parent for his child, the supplication of the one who is fasting, and the supplication of the traveler. (al-Bayhaqi, at-Tirmidhi - Sahih)


  1. I never really liked the traveler's prayer, but after reading this discussion I find that it holds a lot more meaning if I think of reaching a destination (aren't we all on life's journey?) in the metaphorical sense.

  2. I love the Traveller's Prayer. It's part of my departure ritual: read the emergency instructions, locate the closest and second closest exits, count how far they are from my seats, and say the prayer.

    And I love the idea that God does not reject certain supplications.

    1. I, too, love the idea that God is listens more closely to our prayers when we are most vulnerable. Glad that reading and participating in a discussion of this prayer makes it more meaningful. That reminds me of how I feel AFTER our book club discusses a book that I didn't particularly enjoy reading. I always find that I can appreciate the book or author better at the end of the book club meeting. Safe travels, all, Tziporah

  3. This is so wonderful, to consider the facets of prayer, praying for ourselves and others, as we journey. With journey as the metaphor for life, the whole notion of the supplication takes on another meaning. There is a lot to think about here.

  4. I have felt similarly, David. The Traveler's Prayer has always seemed to me like, "Oh no, we're all likely to die - let's pray that we don't." But to think of our moments in transit as the liminal spaces they are - separating where we were from where we are going - prayer is the obvious response.

  5. Corey-Jan, thank you for adding in the part about liminalality. The idea of marking liminal moments with blessings is one of the foundations of Jewish prayer. B'shalom,