Reflections from 35,000 Feet


I am in row 26, seat C. It’s an aisle seat and I cannot see outside the window. I wish that I could. I travel better when I can see where I’m going.

At present, we are somewhere over the North Atlantic. I think.

A week ago, on our connection from London Heathrow to Dublin, I got more than a bit queasy as we took off. Flying typically doesn’t turn my stomach, but this flight certainly did. I’m not entirely sure what triggered the telltale signs of motion sickness. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation. Perhaps it was the fact that I didn’t have anything on my stomach. Who knows? But I know this: I had an aisle seat and didn’t have access to a window. If I could have seen the world down below, my head could have become better acclimated to the movement—the shimmying, the bumping, the rattling—that my body was experiencing.

But as it was, I couldn’t see where we were going. And I didn’t like that feeling one bit.

Life becomes most difficult when we can’t see the path before us. The uncertainty is disorienting. The over-abundance of possibilities, endless. The potential for disaster feels omnipresent.

“If I could just see where I’m going, my head and my heart could get in sync and the journey wouldn’t feel so hard,” we muse.

And yet, sight may be overrated.

An old saying suggests that there is a blessing in having a limited horizon. If we were sailing, we might not be willing to leave port if we could see what lay ahead. We may just be paralyzed by fear if we knew the dangers that were on the other side of the horizon.

Some of us are at our best when we can’t see what lies ahead. Many of our fellow pilgrims thrive when the way forward does not seem clear. I am not one of them.

Faithful monks in Ireland once placed themselves on a journey where they could not see. These zealous Christians would get into a boat and push off toward the open water with no idea where the currents might take them. They proceeded on this journey with the firm belief that God would lead them to where God wanted them. These pilgrims were proud that they were trusting God with their destination, and God most always directed them to distant lands with people who did not know the saving power of Jesus Christ. Without these fearless travelers, much of England and Western Europe would not have known about the Gospel.

So, I for one am thankful for these Irish Christians who trusted God with their journeys, even—and especially when—it would have made me more than a bit queasy.

There’s a lesson to be learned here.

Faith means trusting God with the journey. Faith means not panicking when we cannot see the way. Faith means being grounded in God’s presence when the undulating waves poison our souls with nausea.

I wish that I could see more clearly. I wish that I had a clear view from the window seat on my life’s path. I wish that I could have the assurance that comes from the radiant light that comes when you emerge from a cloud deck.  

And yet, this is not always the case. I know that I must trust the fact that God knows the way forward even when I don’t. I know this. It’s just hard, at times, and the unease that I feel has the power to affect my whole being.

So, when the plane began to bank, and my stomach began to churn, I asked for help. I looked behind me to the flight attendants who were braving the gravity-questionable-reality without the security of a seat belt.

“I’m not feeling well,” I told them.

They responded with alacrity (for good reason) and without annoyance (apparently, they knew how this felt). They knelt beside me. They got me medicine from my carry-on bag. They provided me cashews, ginger ale and a hospitality that I was most-assuredly grateful for. It was comforting to know that when the journey became too much, there were those around me who could care for me and help me.

This, I thought in an instant, is what church looks like at its best.

No, the trip itself didn’t miraculously get better. There were no false assurances of what might, or might not, happen next. But the people around me were gracious and kind. They provided nourishment and consolation when the motion got too much. And when I left the plane and told the two flight attendants thank you, they grinned and said, “We’ve all been there.”

Indeed, we have, which is why we are all the better for it when we choose to be present with one another along the way. Our collective experience, perspective, and insight—even when we ourselves cannot see well—are invaluable gifts to those with whom we journey.

God knows where we are going, and it is frightening that we do not know the way ourselves. But we can rejoice and be glad that Christ has promised to always be with us!

And if we’re lucky, he’ll be bringing us a can of ginger ale.