As I write this flying 34,000 feet above sea level enroute to Denver to visit my brother and sister-in-law, their two dogs, and Betty the Mini Cooper, I am reminded of a Simpsons episode in which the Flanders boys try their luck on Bart’s trampoline. As the boys bounce precariously high, Todd yells, “Each leap brings me closer to God.” Rod responds, “Catch me, Lord, catch me!” at which point the two boys collide and fall in a heap to the ground (from the Season 5 episode “Bart’s Inner Child”). As my plane climbs higher and higher, I have that strange feeling that I am being brought closer to God. I can barely see the tiny cars and houses. The greyish blue clouds stretch thinly between me and the ground below. It’s not so much that I think heaven is somewhere up here in the clouds that makes me feel closer to God. It’s that I’m flying at very high speeds in a heavy chunk of metal with an engine that sounds like it’s powered by steriod-enhanced hamsters. That is the cause of my religious experience at this particular moment in time. I sit strapped securely to my seat/floatation device wondering how it is that this hunk of bolts can fly (“You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought” … Princess Leia upon first seeing the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars).
Next to me sits a uniformed flight attendant on his way home. You can tell that flying is second nature to him. I doubt he’s wondering whether the wings are going to fall off or not. He confidently spills into the seat beside me. He closes his eyes and within minutes he is asleep. His arm and leg rest heavily against me. I am pretty sure that in any other circumstance this would be a violation of my vows.
When I first started flying, I was convinced I’d see angels (or gremlins as in The Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” … which incidentally was parodied on the Simpsons with Bart on the school bus) on the wing of the plane. I vigilantly scanned the airplane and all surrounding clouds for any sign of a supernatural entity that might bring safe haven or disaster. Although I did see many clouds shaped like bunnies and bears, I never did see angels or gremlins to my knowledge.
I’m still scanning the horizon, but I’ve stopped looking for the “otherworldly” (they’ll reveal themselves when they are good and ready). Instead I marvel at the “worldly” …. the things of this universe that are absolutely spectacular. I marvel that I am in the sky, that I can fly through clouds and see the earth in a whole different way. Indeed, I do feel closer to God because I am awed by the beauty of creation as seen from 34,000 feet.