As a kid I wore around my neck a small, sterling silver disc with an engraving of St Christopher piggy-backing a youthful Jesus. It brought me comfort to know that the patron saint of journeys was vigilant for my mobile safety needs. After my conversion to Evangelicalism I dutifully replaced reformed my reliance on the amulet, and instead invoke the sacred Protestant privilege of praying directly to God for “journey mercies.”
As legend has it, the presciently named Christopher (as in Christ-bearer) was an unusually tall and muscular guy who worked as a human ferry carrying people across a fast-flowing river. One day, in I’m guessing 6 or 7AD, he bore a small boy on his back whose weight became heavier and heavier with each laborious step. As the current swelled to dangerous levels the two exchanged some clever repartee about the weight of the world while Christopher resolved to keep the child safe or die trying. You guessed it, the kid was Jesus. And Christopher was rewarded for his service with a halo and a line of jewellery that has remained in fashion to this day.
The popular practice of wearing St Christopher charms is still clung to by many Coptics, Catholics, and Greek Orthodox commuters, fuelling the haughty derision of iconoclastic Evangelicals who tut-tut at the superstitious silliness of trusting a talisman for protection. And yet, I fear many of us ride our prayers into a parallel groove of error with our prayers for travellers to enjoy journey mercies.
Am I saying it is wrong to pray for travellers? May it never be. As a motorcyclist and frequent flier on budget airlines I am grateful for God’s physical protection in any situation where asphalt, human judgment, and combustible fuel are involved. But I wonder if my prayers aren’t sometimes less concerned with survival and tend more toward the vein of convenience.
For people who have not experienced real danger, travel is not as frequently life-threatening as it is stressful. Lost luggage, delayed flights, flat tires, and speeding tickets are these days more common that plane crashes and masked highwaymen.
So how, exactly, are we to pray when we boldly go where our itinerary takes us?
Here are three guidelines when praying for journey mercies…