In late March, I was in London and Oxford for about nine days. Everyone that knew that I went ask how the trip was. Some ask me where my British accent went. Other ask the more important question of why did I leave Hogwarts in the first place.
And believe you me, the trip overflowed with wonderment and grace. An amazing trip. But it wasn’t amazing the entire time.
In fact, it started horribly.
The flight went very smoothly. I flew out of San Francisco, direct to Heathrow airport. However, getting from the airport to the London Priory? Not as smooth.
After I went to the cellular phone company to take care of my mobile needs (which blew my budget, believe me) I got myself an Oyster card for my transportation needs throughout the Capitol. I took out a printed email from the Guestmaster at St. Dominic’s Priory in London and read the directions.
Now, you can ask me, “Why didn’t the brothers pick you up?” There is a funny stigma Californians have against public transportation. There are some that are ashamed or hesitate when they admit that they do not have a car. There is a presupposition that you are a not real Californian if you do not have you own set of wheels. In London, and perhaps in all of the United Kingdom, public transportation is the way to go. Efficient, very clear to understand, and timely.
“But why didn’t the brothers pick you up?” you ask. It’s a busy house. A really busy house. Besides, I wanted the adventure of wanting to figure out the Tube on my own.
Now, honestly, my challenge of traveling to the Priory was really my fault, not looking closely at the maps and assuming that knowing how to read English was enough to get by. And I did know that I was going to be fatigued. I knew that I was going to be overwhelmed and overstimulated. And I knew that I only had three hours of sleep on the plane.
Anyhow, as God has ordained it, the London Priory sits on one of the more complicated lines of the London Tube. After I had made it to King’s Cross (and resisting a short trip to The Harry Potter Shop, also known as Platform 9 ¾), I look for the Northern Line, which will take me to the closest stop to the Priory. However, the Northern Line splits at Camden Town. And of course…I take the wrong split.
So I loop around and finally make it to Belsize Park. I take out my trusty email again and look up the walking directions. I pull out my phone, find myself annoyed that the GPS isn’t working perfectly, and start walking.
What I should have done is prayed. What I should have done is ask directions (I know, I am such a guy). What I should have done is go to Platform 9 ¾. What I should have done was get a taxi.
I really should have taken a taxi.
So I walk around Hampstead Heath for the better part of an hour. The sun is setting. I’m living off of 3 and a half hours of sleep. I’m hungry. I’m dehydrated. I’m lugging around my suitcase and cursing at myself.
I ask the natives how to get to my Priory. One person was also visiting, another hadn’t known, and another looks towards my general direction with a glassy expression on his face and completely, yet politely, ignores me.
Then it occurs to me. I haven’t said Evening Prayer. I haven’t been praying. The Person that got me here on this crazy adventure to London—and I don’t even ask Him for help.
While walking down the main road, I start to pray. Okay Lord, I say, where is the street? Tell me where to go. Show me a way. The way. Whatever way. Get me to my house, in the name of your Son.
You know what happens right? I mean, because it’s happened to us all. I know that you know what had happened next. You ready for the answer? Really?
Exactly. Found the correct street. Bingo. Right there. As though it were a riddled with glowsticks. And naturally, I didn’t see it till that exact moment. I couldn’t help but laugh. And be annoyed with myself. Why didn’t I pray earlier?
Within 10 minutes, I’m inside the house, shown my room, and told that, if I would like, I can pray Vespers with the brethren, have Mass, and have dinner.
Within 10 minutes.
It still causes me to shake my head in shock.
So really, mistake #1 was that I didn’t pray before I left the airport that God would lead me to the house directly. Mistake #2 was that I didn’t pray before I got onto the Tube, asking me to show me the best route. Mistake #3 was that I didn’t pray that I find the house quickly. Mistake #4 was that I didn’t pray and discern whether or not I should have taken that blasted taxi.
And mistake #5 is that I forgot to pray. Period.
The funny thing with the Father is that He is willing to do anything and everything for us. And He is, of course, able to do anything and everything. He can bring on the rain. He can bring on the inspiration to help you pass a test. He can bring the great news from home, the right answer to the complicated question, anything we want.
But we rarely ask for it.
We are so stubborn that we would rather walk around northern London for an hour rather than ask for God’s help. We would rather do things our way because we think that it is the safest route. We would rather do it our way because, if we did anything God’s way, we would be forced to change and change terrifies us.
Yet when we do ask for God’s providential help, funny thing tends to happen. Odd, roundabout opportunities emerge. Connections are made. Unpredictable adventures commence. You find your outlet street in front of you.
Once again, at the beginning of my trip to London, I found out little I pray and, just as importantly, how much I need to. And consequently, throughout the trip, I did a lot of praying—on the tube, on the bus, before and after meals, at the museums. God and I talked a lot over the course of the trip…mostly because I was traveling alone, and frankly, there was not any others to talk with.
But the ultimate travel buddy is always next to us, waiting for us to ask for directions. The thing is, we rarely do.
Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!