The Touch of God in Travel

by AbbessJane

Jane Tomaine is Abbess of the Feline Cloister. An Episcopal priest and retreat leader, she is also author of two books on The Rule of St. Benedict.

Hello!  Amma here.  Br. Ricky asked that I write an article about recognizing God’s touch as we travel.  With a rarely heard hiss, Br Ricky had meowed, “The only travel us felines do is to the vet!  Hiss!”  I happily consented to provide this article.


Travel and the Holy

This summer many of us will travel to be with family members or friends.  We may travel to familiar places or to new places.  Travel offers abundant encounters with the Holy when we take the time to notice and reflect.   You and I can bring home not just great memories, stunning photos, and perhaps a few extra pounds.  We can bring home new experiences of the touch of God.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Jack MacLean,
basking in the touch of God on a road trip.
No feline does this.

The Presence of God

In the Rule Benedict reminds us that God’s presence is everywhere (RB 19.1).  He also assures us that in God’s great love we are shown the way of life (Prologue 20).  And just in case we miss the message, the voice of God calls us all the time! (Prologue 19).

As Benedict established a school for the Lord’s service (Prologue 45) perhaps you and I can use of life as this school. We can be intentional about looking for God and for what God is teaching us through all the experiences of life, even as we travel.  I would like to share one such touch of God.

The Touch of God in France

It was May of 1990 and several days after the funeral of my first husband.  Exhausted, I was resting in the bedroom at home.  As I lay there, a thought formed.  “I don’t know what I want to do, except to see the cathedrals in France.”  My next thought was, “What a pipe dream!”

The next day was Sunday.  The Rev. Dr. Charles Rice, a priest associate at St. Peter’s, Morristown, New Jersey, where I was a member,  walked up to me and said, “Jane, I’ve been thinking about this.  I wasn’t sure if I should ask you but decided to go ahead.  Would you like to go to Taize?”

Clueless as I was at that point in my life as it was before  seminary and the priesthood, I thought he was inviting me to dinner!

Charles went to explain that he was leading a group from Drew University Theological School to visit Taize, an ecumenical monastery in Southern France.  Six days later I had secured a passport (a miracle in itself) and was on a plane bound for France.

With my thought about cathedrals in France and Charles’ invitation I felt that there must be a message for me on the trip.  But once in France, I forgot all about looking for it.

Worship at Taize is multi-lingual. 
Young people flock to Taize for spiritual renewal and community.

God’s Grace in Vezélay

After a week at Taize, which was amazing, we traveled through the French countryside to Paris, spending a night in the hilltop town of Vezélay.

I had always wanted to see the 12th century Basilica of Sainte Marie-Madeleine for its architecture and medieval sculpture.  A dream comes true. The church is located on the very summit of the hill on which the town of Vezélay rests.

It originally was a Benedictine Abbey built to house the relics of Mary Magdaline.  Later the relics were thought to reside elsewhere and the abbey lost its fame.

The hilltop town of Vezélay

The Abbey fell into ruin.  In 1840 it was declared an historic monument and was restored under the guidance of the famous architect Viollet-le-Duc.

The interior of the Basilica of Sainte Marie-Madeleine, mixing Romanesque and Gothic styles.  Amma says, “Gorgeous and uplifting.”

The famous tympanum at the entry to the basilica. Christ is portrayed with his arms wide open at a time when last judgments were commonplace.

After a stunning visit at the basilica, I walked down from the hilltop alone and through some woods to reach the ruins of a 12th century chapel.  Never pass up a ruin, right?  

It was a tough hike.  The path was very steep and rocky, especially treacherous in the kind of shoes I was wearing.

After a wobbly walk down, and several near-missed falls, I came to the end of the path.  Beyond a large wooden cross on the edge of the hill the valley stretched out for miles.  Next to the cross a woman sat painting the magnificent vista.  We exchanged greetings.   She was French but spoke English.  Not wanting to linger, I hurried past, eager to see the chapel.

After my exploration I started back toward the dreaded path.  I was not relishing teetering my way up that hair-raising pile of rocks.  The woman who had been painting approached me, walking with paints and easel in hand.

I greeted her again and said, “I’m not looking forward to the walk back up.  It’s so steep and rocky.  I’m afraid I’ll fall.”

She smiled and pointed to a road behind me.  “There’s a paved road over there that goes right back up to the village.  You can walk up that way.”

I turned, saw the road, and hesitated, “I’m afraid I don’t know that way.”

“The road runs right into the main road of the town, just farther down the hill,” she responded.

I glanced at my watch and, with a stab of panic, saw the time.  “Our bus leaves really soon.  I’d better go back the way I came down.  I’m afraid I’ll get lost.”

The French woman looked at me, smiled, and said, “Don’t be afraid.  God will guide you.”


The Message of Hope

I was stunned.  This French woman had given me the message of the trip – “Don’t be afraid.  God will guide you.”

With gratitude and amazement, I headed toward the unknown road.

As I walked back to the town, I reflected on the encounter and the message.  The truth was the fear I had about the rocky path was just the tip of the iceberg of my fears.

What was life going to be like now?

Would I recover from my emotional turmoil?

What about finances?  The house and mortgage?  My job?

Yet, here was the message: “Don’t be afraid.  God will guide you.”

FYI, I didn’t get lost and made the bus with time to spare.  Isn’t that like our Lord?  More than enough is given.

Your Experiences of God in Travel

I invite you to recall a trip that you’ve taken.  Slowly think through the path of the trip; use memories and feelings to recapture the experience.  Is there one event that stands out?  Focus on this event as you ask yourself these questions:

Where and how was God present?

            What was God shwing you in what you experienced?

God reaches out to us in all the experiences of life, assuring us of God’s grace and presence.  These experiences bring hope, wisdom, and transformation.

I am convinced that these messages come frequently.  Sometimes they are big, like my experience in Vezélay.  We notice them right away.  At other times they are small – little ideas and nudges used by God.  These moments of grace gently inch us forward to become who we are meant to be.  They are treasures given to help us to follow God’s guidance in what we are to do with our lives.  Many are gratefully discovered only upon reflection.


The touch of God comes through others…   

…and when we are alone

Summer Trips and the Touch of God

Are you traveling this summer?  I believe that you will discover many touches of God.  They come through people and the beauty of nature; through rest and through vigorous exercise; through a rekindling of relationships and through silence.

Whether it is back to a familiar location with family and friends or to a brand-new place, set an intention to ask yourself the same questions as you journey.

Where and how is God present?

            What is God be teaching me in what I experience?

Receive the grace with gratitude and thanksgiving.

The Touches of God Endure

I was given a  festive stole by the people of St. David’s in Kinnelon, the community where I did my field work prior to  ordination.  To create the stole,  I shared the story of my life to date with artist Colleen Hintz.  She designed and made the stole using images that represent that story.  At the very back of the stole is an image of the cross that I saw that day in Vezélay.

Over the years when my faith and hope have faltered, my friend Mary Beth brings me back to my own rooting and grounding in love.  “Remember the French woman, Jane.”

“Don’t be afraid; God will guide you.”

Summer Blessings

May your travels, near or far, bring you rest, renewal, and joy.  Travel with your heart firmly fixed on God as best as you can.  May your eyes be open wide to receive God’s light.

 I invite you to read “Unpacking Benedictine Travel” in  “Felines Unpack the Rule of Benedict.”    Resident Novice Sebastian Thomas unpacks the two “travel chapters” in the Rule – RB 50 and RB 67.  Here you’ll find more helpful spiritual travel hints.

To reach the “Unpacking,”  tap here.

 So lovely to be with you.  God bless.


Your friend in Christ,
Amma Jane
Abbess of the Feline Cloister

“Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God.” 
                                                                                            Prologue 9a

Sunset from Put-In-Bay Island, Ohio

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