Twenty-four thousand miles, just shy of the equatorial circumference of the earth. In the last few months, that’s how far I’ve traveled.
I’ve returned to the southeastern part of the United States after spending three years studying theology and serving the Lord on the south island of New Zealand (a.k.a., Middle-Earth). Almost immediately upon my arrival in the States, only needing a day or so to accustom myself to driving on the right, I took to the road. In the words of the former number-one U.S. Country song (a song which, believe it or not, was originally written by an Australian), “I’ve been everywhere.” I’ve been to Birmingham, Alabama; Orlando, Florida; Fort Worth, Texas; Chicago, Illinois; San Diego, California; and the travel log goes on. Sometimes I traveled for business. Sometimes for pleasure. Always I experienced that strange mingling of emotions nomads know all too well, the combination of keenness and anxiety, of “I’m excited to see a new place” and “I hope I make it there in one piece.”
In the most recent days, things have slowed down. In what seems a stagnant stage of life, I’m learning something important about myself: traveling impacts my prayer life. I’m most faithful in prayer when I’m on the journey, for when I travel the destination seems all important to me.
Some years ago, the prolific author, Calvin Miller, took a trek to Ireland. The fruit of the trip was a book titled The Path of Celtic Prayer. In the book, Miller tells of the peregrini, seafaring Celtic pilgrims of old. World-travelers they were. And great people of prayer. Some scholars think the peregrini might have beat Leif Erikson and Christopher Columbus to North America because of some curious Celtic inscriptions found in West Virginia. Unlike most explorers, the peregrini weren’t after earthly riches, but the treasures of following Christ and participating in his plan for the world. Called by their Lord, the seas became their pathway to obedience. In their tiny boats called coracles, the peregrini were often sailless and rudderless, so that God might use his tides to move his servants to whatever distant shore he had in store for them. What reigned supreme for the peregrini was not the destination, but the journey itself. Always these Celtic missionaries were en route, and always they were in a state of prayer.
There is nothing stationary about Christianity. Our God is a traveling God. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Bible is teeming with pilgrim tales. Abraham journeyed to an unknown land (Gen 12:1-4). The apostles were sent to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). And today, Christ bids us: “Come, follow me.” My hunch is that our prayer lives will be profoundly altered if we endeavor to be more like the peregrini, if we stop thinking of our existence in terms of destinations reached, and instead start viewing life as an ongoing journey. Picture life as a hike through new summits of discovery. Or for the slightly less adventurous among us, a walk on a luminous street, where at each lamppost God reveals something more of his person and his plan for us. And like the ancient Celtic drifters, let the pilgrimage be the prayer. Surely this is what Paul had in mind when he urged us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). The prayer of which Paul speaks is no short-lived movement of the lips, but the perpetual climbing up of the heart unto God. To borrow a line from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Old Walking Song, “The road goes ever on and on … ” So, then, the heart climbing. It is the Celtic way. It is the Christian way.