Traveling Blessings

I have been reading a lot of Celtic poetry lately. Most of this poetry is ancient, coming out of the deep medieval centuries when Christianity was weaving itself into local ways of living. The Celtic people were known as travelers, movers, in seasonal migration, moving on from dangerous geopolitical shifts, simpler moves as well, out from the household with sheep and cattle into now-blooming pastures of the highlands, off perhaps to negotiate with far-flung neighbors. Wonderfully for us, now centuries later, living in a far less sacramental world, the Celts provide a vivid glimpse of how to travel well.

What is striking is that most of these poems speak of a people acutely aware of God’s presence in their land, their families, in the daily practices of lighting the fire in the chill of the morning before the family rises, making cream for sustenance and enjoyment, doing the daily chores in order to survive and live with order. The call on their lips is almost always for God to show himself in every aspect of their lives. It is beautiful, inspiring. From another world, we have much to draw from this deep well.

What if we set out for travel with words like these:

Life be in my speech,

Sense in what I say,

The bloom of cherries on my lips,

Till I come back again.

I hope that’s the way I travel this summer and always. Say something good along the way. Make sure there is life in my speech, not cynicism, ignorance, not attack, nor diminishment of land or people. May I carry myself with poise and calm and not too much clamor of my own uncomfortableness with unfamiliar settings or people. Yes, may cherries bloom on my lips. This is the way I want to travel “till I come back again.”

And then there is this blessing, a gift offered for all who are leaving:

The joy of God in thy face,

Joy to all who see thee,

The circle of God around thy neck,

Angels of God shielding thee,

Angels of God shielding thee.

Joy of night and day be thine,

Joy of sun and moon be thine,

Joy of men and women be thine,

Each land and sea thou goest,

Each land and sea thou goest.

Isn’t this lovely? This is traveling, and living, with a deep sense that God surrounds us, God goes with us, God shares the gift of joy each step of the way. Is this the way I travel, this is traveling with joy, the joy of night and day, sun and moon, men and women I might meet? I want to learn how to travel this way. This is a prayer that permeates each step of the way. It is a blessing we offer as a gift for friends and family as we send them off.

The Celts lived life as sacrament. We’ve lost most of this, no doubt about it, tragically lost it. Maybe as we travel this summer, maybe it would be worthwhile to slow down and say a Celtic prayer, maybe even memorize some of these beautiful words. We could hope that the joy of God would be seen in our faces. We could hope to discover the joy of night and day, sun and moon, the joy of men and women we meet, in whatever land and sea we travel. Wouldn’t that be cool? Wouldn’t that revive us once again? Wouldn’t that make the world that much better?